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Complaints about the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and health practitioner boards were up by 32% in the last financial year, new data shows.

The office of the National Health Practitioner Ombudsman and Privacy Commissioner (NHPOPC) released its annual report this week.

The NHPOPC oversees AHPRA and the 15 health practitioner boards, including the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia.

The NHPOPC was contacted by the public and health practitioners 1,035 times in 2018-19 – up 30% from 2017-18, which included 586 complaints – up 32% on the previous year.

While 600 complaints about AHPRA and the national boards were finalised (up 45%), there were 128 new investigations (up 47%) in 2018-19.

The Ombudsman and Commissioner Richelle McCausland said the reason for the large increase in number of concerns was complex.

“Each year the number of health practitioners registered across Australia increases; more notifications are also being made annually to AHPRA; and more people are finding out about my office and how we can help.”

The report showed complaints fell into four main categories: the handling of a notification about a registered health practitioner (52%); the health practitioner registration process (40%); the handling of a request for documents under freedom of information legislation (3%); and a breach of privacy (3%).

Common concerns about AHPRA and the national boards related to:

  • delays in a decision being made;
  • lack of communication and/or inadequate explanation of a decision that was made;
  • concerns that all relevant information was not considered before a decision was made;
  • and unfair policies and procedures.

The NHPOPC received 145 complaints relevant to nursing and midwifery in 2018-2019. The majority (70%) of those complaints were about registration concerns (101). The most common complaint issue was delay in the processing of registration applications (67). Complaints were also received about unfair registration processes or policies (33) and registration fees (1).

“We received more complaints about registration delays from nurses and midwives than from practitioners in any other professions.

“My office has been working with AHPRA to address recent concerns about delays in the processing and assessment of applications for registration. I will continue to closely monitor this complaint trend,” Ms McCausland said.

ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler said concerns had been raised by members.

“We’ve received feedback from our Branches around the country about significant delays in the registration process, which suggests that the problem is much greater than the figures quoted by AHPRA,” she said.

“The Federal ANMF is meeting with AHPRA and the NMBA in an effort to resolve these issues for our members so that we can be sure that new graduates are able to start their jobs they’ve worked so hard to gain. A number of newly graduated nurses have reported losing employment opportunities because of unexplained delays in the registration process. So, it’s critical that new graduates seeking registration have their applications processed in a timely fashion.”

Continued growth in the number of registered health practitioners was one of the reasons for the expected rise in complaints, according to an AHPRA spokesperson.

“We registered 41,696 more health practitioners than the previous year, an increase of 5.9%.

“There has also been a spike in the number of notifications made to AHPRA about registered health practitioners and more matters being dealt with more quickly; and increased awareness of the role of the NHPOPC and the ability to make complaints about AHPRA and the national boards.”

AHPRA was working to address issues highlighted in the report, including supporting staff to improve communication with practitioners; making services more accessible to people; and improving the timeliness of its processes, the spokesperson said.

Nurses and midwives with any concerns about how AHPRA and the NMBA have handled a notification or the registration process should contact the NHPOPC, Ms McCausland said.

“Every complaint my office receives is important. Each complaint is an opportunity not only to resolve someone’s concerns, but also to identify systemic issues which may be affecting others.”