Concerns/Complaints

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The Psychologists Board is mandated to protect the health and safety of members of the New Zealand public in their dealings with psychologists. A member of the public who has a concern about a psychologist is encouraged to first discuss his or her concerns with the psychologist. (See also the "Raising a Concern about a Psychologist"page in the "For the Public" section of this website). If that proves unsatisfactory, the Board recommends contacting the psychologist's employer or contracting agency (e.g., ACC, or the Family Court) for assistance in resolving the concern. 

Members of the public can contact the Board at any stage to discuss their concerns informally. If they subsequently decide to make a formal complaint (or notification where there are fitness or competence concerns), the Board will follow the process prescribed by the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 (the Act). Those processes are set out below. 

Click on any of the following headings for information about:

Seeking advice from the Board

The processing of formal complaints

Professional Conduct Committees

The Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (HPDT)

For further information please contact us.

 

A note regarding specific advice from the Board

The Board’s secretariat often field telephone and email enquiries about specific practice and ethical issues. While we try to be as helpful as possible, it is not appropriate for us to give specific advice or direction as this would compromise our ability to fairly assess and determine any notifications and/or complaints that may follow. Further, while we may be able to help identify some key issues or questions, we cannot fairly and robustly assess sensitive and/or ethically complex situations during a brief, informal contact. So while we encourage practitioners to continue to contact us for initial assistance, we also ask that you understand the limitations to what assistance we can offer. We also encourage all psychologists to review the Board's published Best Practice Guidelines (see below), to engage in regular supervision, and to make full use of the supports and services offered through the two collegial bodies (NZPsS and NZCCP) and through indemnity insurance providers.

 

The processing of formal complaints

The Psychologists Board has delegated most of its decision-making authority under Parts 3 & 4 of the HPCA Act to the "Parts 3 & 4 Committee" (P3&4 Committee), which is comprised of three members of the Board's secretariat, three Board members, and one external expert.

When a formal complaint is received, it is screened by the secretariat to determine if it concerns a health consumer. If it does, it must be referred to the Health and Disability Commissioner (HDC).  If the scope of the complaint is not clear, the complaint will be referred to the HDC for preliminary assessment.

The Board cannot take any action under Part 4 of the HPCA Act on a complaint while it is being investigated by the HDC. (It can, however, take action under other Parts of the Act).

The HDC has various options when a complaint is received.  He may, after a preliminary assessment, refer a the matter to the Psychologists Board if it appears that the competence of the psychologist or his or her fitness to practise or the appropriateness of his or her conduct may be in doubt. He may also refer the matter if, at any point during the complaint handling process, he has reason to believe that the practice of a health practitioner may pose a risk of harm to the public.  

Formal complaints are normally dealt with via the following pathway: 

  1. Complaint is received by the Registrar.
  2. If a health consumer is affected the complaint is forwarded to the HDC.
  3. The practitioner concerned receives a copy of the complaint.
  4. Once the HDC sends the complaint back to the Board (by formal referral or otherwise), and the practitioner is asked for comment.
  5. The complainant is then given an opportunity to comment on the practitioner's response.
  6. The practitioner is given an opportunity to reply to the complainant's comments (if any).
  7. The P3&4 Committee reviews all of the relevant documentation and determines the appropriate course of action.
  8. The P3&4 Committee may decide to refer the complaint to a Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) (see below).
  9. The P3&4 Committee also has the options of referring the matter to be dealt with under Part 3 of the Act, which covers competence and fitness concerns, referring it to another agency, or deciding to take no further action.
  10. If the complaint has been referred to a PCC, the PCC will investigate the matter and report its findings to the P3&4 Committee, the practitioner, and the complainant. Following their investigation, a PCC must make one or more recommendations, or one determination, or both (see below).

 

Professional Conduct Committees

The Board may appoint a Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) to investigate a complaint and/or to investigate the circumstances of certain offences committed by psychologists. PCCs are composed of two psychologists and one layperson.  A PCC may also appoint a legal adviser to advise it on matters of law, procedure, or evidence.

What does a PCC do?

A PCC receives evidence and investigates a case. This may include hearing oral evidence and considering written submissions and statements from a range of people involved with the complaint and, where necessary, a clinical expert. A PCC can also recommend to the Board that it should suspend a psychologist's practising certificate if at any time in the course of investigating a matter the PCC believes that the psychologist's practice poses a risk of serious harm to the public.

What can a PCC decide?

After completing their investigation, a PCC can make one or more recommendations or one determination, or both. [Refer section 80 of the HPCA Act.]

The possible recommendations are:

That the Board review the competence of the psychologist to practise; and/or

That the Board review the fitness of the psychologist; and/or

That the Board review the psychologist's scope of practice; and/or

That the Board refer the subject matter of the investigation to the police; and/or

That the Board counsel (advise) the psychologist. 

The possible determinations are:

That no further steps be taken in relation to the complaint; or

That a charge be brought against the psychologist before the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal; or

That the complaint be submitted to conciliation.

Please note that there is a clear distinction between ‘determinations’ and ‘recommendations’.  The Board is not bound by a PCC's recommendations but a determination is a final decision that the Board is required to accept. 

When a PCC makes a determination under section 80(3)(a) that ‘no further steps be taken under the Act in relation to the subject matter of the investigation’  then no further steps can or will be taken by the Board in relation to the complaint. This means that the Board cannot revisit the complaint, enter into further correspondence about the complaint, reinstate the PCC and investigation process, or do anything else in relation to the complaint. 

Who finds out what the PCC decides?

At the conclusion of the investigation any recommendations or determinations made by the PCC are notified to the P3&4 Committee, the psychologist, and the complainant.

Guidelines about PCCs

The Board has developed comprehensive guidelines to assist PCCs, psychologists being investigated by a PCC, and complainants who have had their complaint referred to a PCC. These are provided to relevant parties following confirmation of the membership of the PCC.

 

The Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal

The HPCA Act has established a Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (HPDT) to hear and determine charges brought before it against any health practitioner covered by the HPCA Act. The HPDT operates independently from the Board and other registration authorities. The HPDT typically hears only the most serious of complaints.

For any given hearing the HPDT is composed of the Chairperson (a Barrister or Solicitor of the High Court), or a deputy chairperson, and four others (three of whom must be professional peers of the health practitioner and one who must be a lay person).

The source of the charges before the HPDT is either the Director of Proceedings (Health and Disability Commissioner's office) or a Professional Conduct Committee.

HPDT decisions and events are published on the HPDT website: www.hpdt.org.nz 

You can download a copy of the HPDT Guide to Disciplinary Proceedings - What happens following notice of disciplinary proceedings against a health practitioner here.