IN a Newcastle Herald report today on complaints about treatment in Hunter New England public hospitals, prominent Newcastle lawyer Catherine Henry, who specialises in medical matters, raises a number of valid questions about the quality of care available to people of this region.
The Australian Lawyers Alliance, for which she is the NSW spokesperson on health, has lodged a submission to a NSW parliamentary inquiry into health issues facing non-metropolitan areas of the state, saying Australia falls well behind OECD standards in publishing the sort of performance data that would make it easier to see which parts of our health system are working well, and which could do with improvement.
Reporter Gabriel Fowler's article highlights figures found in the latest annual report from the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission, a 214-page document that includes detailed lists of the types of complaints received by the commission.
Presumably for legal and privacy reasons, most of the information in the report is de-identified. One exception, as our report notes, is a breakdown of complaints by public hospitals by health district: as we report, Hunter New England tops this list, and has for four out of the five years' worth of data contained in the particular table.
The only way to tell whether these 173 complaints in 2019-20 are in line with other districts, for example, is to look at this number in light of the qualifying data; numbers of emergency department attendances, hospital discharges and outpatient services.
Without knowing the "relative" rate of complaint, the absolute numbers of complaints are all but meaningless, because they take no account of the size of the organisation.
It should not be up to the reader to have to do these calculations. Without them, however, we have a mass of 'information" but no real "knowledge".
The commission appears to recognise this, when it says the 2662 complaints about medical practitioners in 2019-20 - up by 12 per cent on 2018-19 - "should be seen in the context of" the 42.5 million GP visits over the same period.
There is undoubtedly a wealth of valuable information in the report.
But it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the document would be much more useful - to the public the commission says it's dedicated to serving - with some basic interpretation and comparison of the data.
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