Accountability: Complaints against unregistered health practitioners

Australia has federal laws to protect patients from unethical or unsafe practices by registered health practitioners, however, NSW is the only state to provide similar protection from unregistered health practitioners. NSW patients adversely affected by unregistered practitioners may seek redress through the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC). Links to the HCCC, instructions on making complaints and an explanation of relevant aspects of the code of conduct follows, with some good news and bad news.


Apologies in advance everyone for the lengthy and complex posts on this matter. Unfortunately there’s some variation in state laws. Coincidentally, I was reading in the Medical Observer today how healthcare complaints procedures in Australia are not patient friendly. If you get really lost, contact me and I’ll try and point you in the right direction.
 
The good news 
 
Australia wide law provides protection for patients from the unethical practices of registered practitioners. Medical practitioners, pharmacists, physiotherapists, dentists, psychologists, Chinese Medicine practitioners, chiropractors, radiologists, nurses, midwives, occupational therapists, optometrists, osteopaths and podiatrists are required to register with AHPRA (Australian Healthcare Practitioner Regulatory Authority) and are required to abide by codes of conduct decided by the national boards for each profession under section 39 of the National Law. Complaints about registered practitioners can be made to AHPRA in all states – and I’ll cover this in an upcoming post.
In relation to unregistered health practitioners, the NSW Public Health Act includes a Code of Conduct for Unregistered Health Practitioners in place since 2008. The NSW HCCC has powers to investigate breaches of the code and to take action against practitioners, including issuing prohibition orders. In order for the Commission to take action, an unregistered practitioner must be found to be BOTH in breach of the code and pose a risk to public safety.

Part of the good news is that, messiah or not, Serge Benhayon is required to abide by the code, and those of you who have experienced adverse affects from his treatments or from other NSW based unregistered practitioners have grounds for complaint with the HCCC (provided the events occurred after 2008).

(In future posts I’ll walk us through codes of conducts and complaints procedures against doctors and other registered health practitioners. All complaint related links and links to relevant services will also be posted on our links page.)
The bad news
For Australians outside of NSW, health consumer protection laws in relation to unregistered practitioners laws are dismal and there are no mechanisms to protect the public unless the practitioners commit criminal offences such as assault, theft or fraud, which can be dealt with by police; or misleading or deceptive conduct which might come under the authority of the state Offices of Fair Trading.
In other words, an unregistered health practitioner (eg. naturopath, massage therapist, Esoteric healer, unregistered counsellor/psychotherapist etc.) may claim to be able to cure serious illnesses, advise you against seeking medical advice, advise you to quit vital pharmaceutical medications, practice while intoxicated, ignore standard precautions for infection control, make unsubstantiated therapeutic claims, misinform and financially exploit clients and transgress personal boundaries and invade a patient’s privacy with impunity.
In Queensland, for example, you could make a complaint about such a practitioner to the HQCC and they can file it and offer some advice, but they have no powers to act on complaints, because there is no health care consumer protection legislation against unregistered practitioners.
In the near future I may ask readers to assist in lobbying state governments to introduce similar Public Health Care Acts to those in NSW, with provisions to investigate and act against misconduct among unregistered health providers. I’ll write up a letter to paste into emails and ask you to cooperate by sending them to the state attorney generals and health ministers, and also circulate it to the relevant federal ministers, news organizations and public health activist groups, who I daresay will give us some public support.
For overseas readers, sorry I don’t have the resources to advise on the laws in your areas. I recommend you google or contact the relevant government department in your territory or country and ask lots of questions, or enlist a good supportive friend or community worker to help you find out.
HOW TO MAKE A COMPLAINT
 
First: A special note about sexual assault
Sexual assault is a crime and it occurs when a person is forced, coerced or tricked into sexual acts against their will or without their consent, or if a child or young person under 18 is exposed to sexual activities. The law says a person is unable to give consent when asleep or unconscious, intoxicated, unable to understand what they are consenting to, coerced, intimidated, threatened, held against their will or if they submit due to the person being in a position of trust.
Indecent assault is unwanted touching of a person’s body by another person.
A vaginal examination given by any practitioner other than a GP, obstetrician or gynaecologist in a treatment room or clinical setting is sexual assault – whether the patient consented or not. Any other inappropriate touching in clinical setting is also assault.
If a practitioner assaulted or attempted to assault you, there are a number of options, but I would urge you to at least contact a sexual assault counselling service (Australia wide links on the links page) and consider contacting the police – particularly the dedicated sexual assault units. You may also report sexual or indecent assaults by practitioners to the NSW HCCC if you are in NSW.
Offering to touch a patient or questioning patients about their sexual or gynaecological history is classed as sexual misconduct and boundary transgression. In NSW this can be reported to the HCCC. In other states, report registered practitioners to AHPRA.
If any of this is confusing, call your nearest sexual assault service.
NSW COMPLAINTS
To make a complaint or to enquire about making a complaint about NSW practitioners, visit the HCCC site, or phone 1800 043 159.
The complete NSW Code of Conduct for Unregistered Health Practitioners is found on a link on this page. Otherwise, pasted below are the sections of the code I believe may be relevant to patients or clients of Universal Medicine practitioners. In NSW, this code applies to all healthcare practitioners, registered or unregistered. Registered practitioners, however, are also subject to further codes of conduct specific to their profession and decided by national boards.
While I encourage anyone adversely affected to make a complaint, there is no guarantee of the outcome. I do know, though, that the Commission has prohibited practitioners from practice due to sexual misconduct and other unethical behaviour. To reiterate: In order for the Commission to take action, the unregistered practitioner must be found to be BOTH in breach of the code and pose a risk to public safety. No matter what, it’s important to lodge your complaint even if it doesn’t result in immediate action because it may be taken into account if further complaints are received.
3 Health practitioners to provide services in safe and ethical manner
 
(1) A health practitioner must provide health services in a safe and ethical manner. 
(2) Without limiting subclause (1), health practitioners must comply with the following principles: 
(a) a health practitioner must maintain the necessary competence in his or her field of practice, 
(b) a health practitioner must not provide health care of a type that is outside his or her experience or training, 
(b1) a health practitioner must not provide services that he or she is not qualified to provide, 
(b2) a health practitioner must not use his or her possession of particular qualifications to mislead or deceive his or her clients as to his or her competence in his or her field of practice or ability to provide treatment, 
(c) health practitioner must prescribe only treatments or appliances that serve the needs of the client,
(d) a health practitioner must recognise the limitations of the treatment he or she can provide and refer clients to other competent health practitioners in appropriate circumstances, 
(e) a health practitioner must recommend to his or her clients that additional opinions and services be sought, where appropriate, 
(f) a health practitioner must assist his or her clients to find other appropriate health care professionals, if required and practicable, 
(g) a health practitioner must encourage his or her clients to inform their treating medical practitioner (if any) of the treatments they are receiving, 
(h) a health practitioner must have a sound understanding of any adverse interactions between the therapies and treatments he or she provides or prescribes and any other medications or treatments, whether prescribed or not, that the health practitioner is aware the client is taking or receiving, 
(i) a health practitioner must ensure that appropriate first aid is available to deal with any misadventure during a client consultation, 
(j) a health practitioner must obtain appropriate emergency assistance (for example, from the Ambulance Service) in the event of any serious misadventure during a client consultation. 
 
5 Health practitioners not to make claims to cure certain serious illnesses

(1) A health practitioner must not hold himself or herself out as qualified, able or willing to cure cancer and other terminal illnesses. 
 
Relevance: Did a practitioner (other than a medical doctor), including Serge Benhayon, advise you to stop taking medications, such as thyroid medication, antidepressants, painkillers or to discontinue cancer treatment or medications for palliative (end of life) care?
Did a practitioner/healer fail to recognize symptoms of illness and fail to refer you for appropriate medical care?
Were you given dietary advice by an unaccredited practitioner and did you experience a decline in health in spite of that advice? (Weakness, neurological symptoms such as numbness or tingling, increased digestive problems, fatigue, weight loss, anxiety around food, mood disorders, decreased immune function, changes to the menstrual cycle, infertility etc.)
Did an Esoteric Breast Massage or other practitioner take your gynecological history?
Did a practitioner counsel you on sexual assault or abuse without referring you to an appropriate service?
Were you told the practitioner was able to cure cancer or any serious illness?
6 Health practitioners to adopt standard precautions for infection control 
 
(1) A health practitioner must adopt standard precautions for the control of infection in his or her practice. 
(2) Without limiting subclause (1), a health practitioner who carries out a skin penetration procedure within the meaning of section 51(3) of the Act must comply with the relevant regulations under the Act in relation to the carrying out of the procedure. Note. The Act defines skin penetration procedure as any procedure (whether medical or not) that involves skin penetration (such as acupuncture, tattooing, ear piercing or hair removal), and includes any procedure declared by the regulations to be a skin penetration procedure, but does not include: (a) any procedure carried out by a health practitioner registered under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, or by a person acting under the direction or supervision of a registered health practitioner, in the course of providing a health service, or (b) any procedure declared by the regulations not to be a skin penetration procedure.
Relevance: Are chakra-puncturists educated in skin penetration regulations? Are chakra-puncturists aware of the risk of transmitting HIV or hepatitis, including hepatitis C via needles? Where is the evidence they are? Is it found in the chakrapuncture course books or notes? Who oversees their adherence to the regulations?
7 Appropriate conduct in relation to treatment advice 
 
(1) A health practitioner must not attempt to dissuade clients from seeking or continuing with treatment by a registered medical practitioner. 
(2) A health practitioner must accept the right of his or her clients to make informed choices in relation to their health care. 
(3) A health practitioner should communicate and co-operate with colleagues and other health care practitioners and agencies in the best interests of their clients. 
Relevance: Did a practitioner discourage you from seeking treatment from doctors, dentists or other registered practitioners? Were you told those practitioners are ‘loveless’ or not ‘acting out of love’ as a reason to avoid them?
10 Health practitioners not to financially exploit clients 
 
(1) A health practitioner must not accept financial inducements or gifts for referring clients to other health practitioners or to the suppliers of medications or therapeutic goods or devices. 
(2) A health practitioner must not offer financial inducements or gifts in return for client referrals from other health practitioners. 
(3) A health practitioner must not provide services and treatments to clients unless they are designed to maintain or improve the clients’ health or wellbeing.
Relevance: Were you told you need numerous Esoteric healing sessions, such as Esoteric Breast Massage or Chakra-puncture in order to clear ‘prana’ or ‘imposts’ or ‘male energy’?
11 Health practitioners required to have clinical basis for treatments 
 
A health practitioner must not diagnose or treat an illness or condition without an adequate clinical basis. 
 
Relevance: SERGE SAID SO is not an adequate clinical basis for any therapy. Nor is the assent of a handful of ‘love’-struck medical practitioners with personal and financial conflicts of interest.
Were you told an Esoteric healer could assist with gynaecological or breast disorders, digestive disorders, respiratory disorders, recovery from cancer treatment and the like?
Were you told Esoteric modalities could relieve any symptoms of illness?
Were you given ‘craniosacral pulse readings’, ‘lymphatic pulse readings’, Esoteric chakrapuncture, Esoteric Connective Tissue Therapy or Esoteric Massage? If these were provided to you during a Medicare funded service, it should be reported to Medicare as well as the HCCC. Medicare doesn’t fund untested, invented modalities.
 
12 Health practitioners not to misinform their clients 
 
(1) A health practitioner must not engage in any form of misinformation or misrepresentation in relation to the products or services he or she provides or as to his or her qualifications, training or professional affiliations.
(2) A health practitioner must provide truthful information as to his or her qualifications, training or professional affiliations if asked about those matters by a client.
(3) A health practitioner must not make claims, either directly or in advertising or promotional material, about the efficacy of treatment or services provided if those claims cannot be substantiated. 
 
Relevance: SERGE SAID SO does not substantiate zip.
Were you told a practitioner is a dietician, nutritionist or other type of therapist, yet they have no accreditation and their treatments are not eligible for health fund rebates?
Were you told Esoteric Breast Massage could assist healing breast or gynaecological conditions such as ovarian cysts, endometriosis, menstrual pain or menopausal symptoms?
Were you told Esoteric Chakrapuncture could assist digestive, lung or gynaecological conditions or recovery from chemotherapy or drug, alcohol or smoking detoxification?
Were you told you were ill or suffered sexual abuse due to actions in past lives or that you have symptoms of illness or suffer infertility or gyne disorders due to the presence of ‘pranic’ energy or entities or ‘energetic imposts’ that need to be cleared? Did this cause you distress?
 
13 Health practitioners not to engage in sexual or improper personal relationship with clients

(1) A health practitioner must not engage in a sexual or other close personal relationship with a client.
(2) Before engaging in a sexual or other close personal relationship with a former client, a health practitioner must ensure that a suitable period of time has elapsed since the conclusion of their therapeutic relationship. 

 

Addendum: It may help to add to your complaint that Esoteric healing modalities were invented by Serge Benhayon, an unqualified, untrained and self styled healer, and therefore have no clinical basis.

For information on making complaints about doctors or other registered healthcare practitioners, try the Official Complaints posts on this site, or contact the following authorities.
AHPRA – Australian Health Practitioner Regulatory Authority takes complaints/notifications against registered health practitioners, to be covered in an upcoming post.
 

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One thought on “Accountability: Complaints against unregistered health practitioners

  1. It's important to point out that even if the behaviour of the unregistered practitioner results in the implication that diseases, illness, cancer can be 'cured' or 'mitigated' they have also breached the code. As a sideline observer of Unimed, I am confident this is happening. There is lots of stories of people not going to medically trained doctors in a timely fashion, or at all, after being to a UM practitioner or seeing Serge.He and UM is clearly a health risk. I hope the HCCC takes this seriously. I have been watching this for yonks and it is giving ethical practitioners a bad name and endangering the public and his followers. They have even started doing their own studies which are not peer reviewed. C'mon. If you've been affected, I urge you to take a moment to make a complaint so that Unimed adheres to the same rules as everyone else.

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