As a patient in hospital you have numerous rights that, by law, cannot be violated. These rights are enacted in domestic federal law as well as international law, via the obligations Australia has taken to uphold human rights. If you are a patient in hospital, remember that these rights exist to protect you, and if you feel that they are being violated, seek the aid of a lawyer immediately.
Right of access
You have the right to access any health care that you need. This includes any type of health care you may wish to access, either public or private. This is a very basic right and unlikely to be violated.
Right of safety
You have the right to safe and quality medical care. If language is an issue, you have the right to an interpreter in order to relay all relevant information so that you can receive the best quality care possible.
Right of respect
You have the right to be treated as fairly as possible. Your wishes should be always respected, and you should never encounter any discrimination relating to your culture, race, sex, appearance, etc.
Right of communication
You have the right to be fully informed in hospital – told your rights, what options you have, and the costs of carrying out these options. All information regarding to your treatment is included in your right to communication. If you have any worries about your treatment or disagree with anything, you are allowed to receive a second medical opinion.
Right of participation
You have the right to be an active participant in all communications about your medical care, and also have the right to appoint a family member as a decision maker if you wish. You are also able to refuse any care that may be offered to you, even if medical professionals advise that it is your best option. You are therefore also given the right to decide when to leave and stay in hospital. This means that you can discharge yourself even if doctors disagree – it is 100% your decision.
Right of privacy
This is perhaps one of the most important patient rights – you have the right to have your personal information treated confidentially. Every single person involved in your treatment has a legal duty to not disclose any information to anyone, and you have the right to decide what will happen to the information collected about you.
Right of comment
You have the right to comment on the health care you receive, and have all issues addressed by the medical professional. If you are unhappy, you therefore have the right to make a complaint against the hospital or medical professional.
Responsibilities of the patient
While you bear a number of rights, there are also certain responsibilities you must undertake as a patient. It is important that you are completely open with your health care professional about everything relevant to your life and illness. Important aspects that you should reveal include if you are taking extra medication, if you drink or smoke, or even if you take herbal medicine or supplements. This information is all relevant, and it’s your responsibility to be truthful with the medical professional so they can best treat you.
Can these rights be taken away?
Your rights as a medical patient can be removed in certain situations. If you have a mental illness that is causing harm to yourself or others, your doctors may be presented with a compulsory treatment order. These orders can range from temporary treatment orders, assessment orders, and a treatment order made by a mental health tribunal. A temporary treatment order will either allow you to remain in the community or admit you into hospital.
These orders are only applied for people with a mental illness that presents a danger to themselves or others. These circumstances mean that your rights are somewhat reduced in regards to your freedom, but the law still ensures you will be treated fairly and with respect to everything, including privacy.
What can I do if my rights are violated?
Unfortunately, some of these rights are not legally enforceable. The right to high quality health care and privacy are written into law, but others (such as a right to a second opinion) are not ‘legal’ rights, rather moral practices that doctors are governed by. Nevertheless, if one of the rights mentioned above has been breached, you should contact a lawyer and fully discuss with them your situation. Depending on the information you provide, they will be able to inform you if the law is able to help solve your problem.
The Health Services Commission is a form of ombudsman that represents the people when there is a public abuse of power. If the legal avenue is not open, the next step is to lodge a complaint to the ombudsman about which rights were violated. If a medical professional neglected to treat you with respect or denied you access to information, this is the process to go through. This service will allow mediation and reconciliation between yourself and the health care professional who violated your rights.
You are also entitled to make a complaint about a particular doctor. If you feel a particular doctor has not respected the rights available to you, you can make a complaint to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). If you ever feel uncomfortable or violated during a consultation, take it as a sign that something isn’t right. A doctor should not enter into a sexual or emotional relationship with a patient, and they are under a professional duty to restrain from this.
The AHPRA and ombudsman will investigate your complaint fully and comprehensively. It is the sole purpose of these agencies to investigate complaints of this nature, so if you’ve had your rights violated this is the best course of action to take. Australia offers a world class health care system that gives its patients many rights to receive fair and appropriate health care. If these rights are not met or ignored, then the appropriate response must be taken.