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). Members of the public can contact the Board at any stage to discuss their concerns informally or to make a formal complaint (or notification where there are fitness or competence concerns).
The Board's processes for dealing with formal complaints against psychologists under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 (the Act) are set out below. Click on any of the following headings for information about:
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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 plus three Board members.
When a formal complaint is received at the Board's offices, it is screened by the secretariat to determine if it concerns patient care. If the complaint relates to a health consumer it must be referred to the Health and Disability Commissioner. If the scope of the complaint is not clear, the complaint will be referred to the Commissioner 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 Health and Disability Commissioner. (It can, however, take action under other Parts of the Act).
The Commissioner has various options when a complaint is received. He must refer matters to the appropriate authority (e.g., the Psychologists Board) when an investigation has revealed a significant breach of duty or misconduct; and 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:
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 receives evidence and investigates a case or class of cases. 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. The 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 the matter the PCC believes that the psychologist's practice poses a risk of serious harm to the public.
After completing the investigation, the 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.
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.
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 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 (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