Following widespread consultation during the 5-yearly review of the Health & Disability Commissioner Act and the Code of Consumers’ Rights, Commissioner Ron Paterson’s report was tabled in Parliament at the beginning of August 2009. The Commissioner identified three main issues that he believed needed addressing through amendments to the HDC Act and/or Code, but the right to be treated with compassion was not one of them.
The three issues were the need to strengthen the rights of disability services consumers to timely access to services, changes to the way advocates are employed which would make them employees of the HDC, and allowing the HDC office to handle health information privacy aspects of complaints to the HDC.
The Centre for Compassion in Healthcare had campaigned hard for the addition of the right to be treated with compassion to Right 1 – “every consumer has the right to be treated with compassion and respect.” The HDC’s report acknowledges both the campaign and the fact that the majority of those who made submissions during the review process supported this amendment. The Centre for Compassion in Healthcare’s own submission had also included a petition with 529 electronic signatories supporting the addition of the right to be treated with compassion.
The Centre was of course very disappointed with the Commissioner’s decision given the huge level of support for the amendment.
The Commissioner stated in his report that he did not support the change “because it sits uneasily with a disability perspective (in a Code that belongs to disability and health consumers); the Code already permits denunciation of neglectful and callous conduct; and the laudable goal of compassionate health care is better promoted by ethics and training than by regulations.”
“I believe the very good goal of compassionate health care is better looked after by ethics and training than by rules of law,” he said.
The Commissioner referred to the meeting held in Wellington on 11 June 2009 that was attended by 20 key stakeholders and people who made substantive submissions, commenting that while “everyone present agreed that compassion is an important virtue in health care, and many shared a sense that it is often absent, especially in hospital settings,” it was “also recognised that the use of compassion in relation to disability services is inappropriate.”
The HDC received 122 submissions during the third review of the HDC Act and Code of Rights including one from the AWHC. As well as supporting the right to be treated with compassion, the AWHC also argued for
the naming of those found to have breached the Code of Rights
ethics committees to come under the oversight of the office of the HDC with a framework similar to that of advocacy services
the continuation of the five-yearly reviews of the Act and Code
the need for access to interpreting services to be a part of the informed consent process in the health care system
the reversal of the 2003 amendment of Right 7(10) that enabled the use by researchers of patients’ “left-over” body parts, blood samples, and other bodily substances without first having to obtain their consent.
The Commissioner didn’t agree with the AWHC which wasn’t a surprise as the Council had argued for most of them in its submission five years ago.
Some of the Commissioner’s own recommendations for change included:
the fine for committing an offence against the Act to be increased from $3,000 to $10,000
expert advisors hired by the HDC to be given the same protection from being sued currently given to members, office holders & employees under the Crown Entities Act
the right of the Commissioner to retain as private any information gathered by his Office while in the process of investigating a complaint.