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When things go wrong

If everything has "turned to custard" with your medical professional then you may prefer to see your own solicitor or if you don't have one then you can get free legal advice from CAB or CLAW (this may also be an avenue to ACC via your GP if there is enough evidence) but they may well point you straight to an HDC Advocate or the HDC directly - or maybe even the hospital - if it is a hospital problem.  You can check these complaints procedures with the relevant authorities yourself too but it may be simpler to seek advice with those mentioned above.

Approaches can be made to the Medical Council of New Zealand (MCNZ) or the Dental Council of New Zealand (DCNZ), whichever is appropriate to the person concerned.  Medical professionals are registered with the MCNZ and (generally speaking) dental professionals are registered with the DCNZ and/or depending on their circumstances also with the MCNZ.  Their complaints procedures are on their websites.

I have asked the MCNZ, DCNZ and the MCNZ about registration and they assure me that a dental surgeon does not have to register with both.  For example, an Oral Maxillofacial Surgeon (OMS) can be registered with the DCNZ without registering with the MCNZ.  This opinion is not shared by many OMS’s who consider that an OMS should have both a dental qualification and a medical qualification and would then be required to register with both the DCNZ and the MCNZ.

Websites:

http://www.cab.org.nz/Pages/home.aspx

http://communitylaw.org.nz/

https://www.advocacy.org.nz/

https://www.hdc.org.nz/

https://www.mcnz.org.nz/

https://www.dcnz.org.nz/

In an ideal world this is how the process should work, then there would be need for this article !:

The first rule is be proactive, if you are worried about an odd ache, pain, lump, rash or whatever do not “wait and see”, go to your GP, medical professional or your dentist – which ever seems appropriate to the situation.  Your dentist may well refer you to your GP, if your dentist recommends that you see your GP then see your GP.

If your GP then refers you to a specialist then all to the better, hopefully the specialist will make a diagnosis or recommend treatment or a maybe they will recommend that, if the first specialist thinks that your problem is not their speciality they might suggest that you go back to your GP for a referral to another specialist.

If you are not satisfied with what the specialist(s) have told you or you don’t really understand then you must have the courage to say so.  If you are still not happy or clear on any points then go back to your GP who can either clarify things for you or the GP can arrange a second opinion, you are entitled to a second opinion.

These steps should be documented by your GP but keep notes of your own and ask for opinions, diagnosis, etc in writing.  If it is recommended that a biopsy is required then make sure you get a copy of the results, and, once again, if you don’t understand any of it then you are entitled to have it explained so that you can make an “informed decision”, about your treatment.  This is a right that cannot be denied as if you do not understand the consequences of any treatment then you cannot make an informed decision about it.

If your diagnosis is what you feared, and it’s confirmed then that can be the most difficult part, this is where guidance is needed.  You need information – knowledge is power, and if you feel powerless then you will find that stress and frustration may follow.  If you are not happy with what has been suggested or proposed by the specialist(s) then this is your choice to either refuse or comply with the assessment.  You are not obliged to accept any or all and always remember – it’s your body and your choice.

Your rights under the code include:

  • a right to receive the information you need to make decisions about your health and about any tests, procedures or treatments
  • a right to have information provided in a way that you understand
  • a right to make an informed choice and give your informed consent before you undergo a test, procedure or treatment
  • a right to be treated with respect and dignity, taking into account your cultural needs and values
  • a right to have a support person with you, at most times
  • a right to services being provided with reasonable care and skill
  • a right to complain about a provider, in a way that is appropriate for you.

All these rights also apply if you take part or are asked to take part in teaching or research.  Go to the Health and Disability Commissioner website to find out more. They have information on your rights in many languages.

Are you aware that if you do have a biopsy or surgery then you have the right to decide what will happen to any tissue or (if a biopsy) then the remaining tissue after the testing has been carried out by the pathologist ?  You might want to donate it to a research institute as it may be of use in future research, helping further medical knowledge, and to possibly help other patients and their diagnoses.

G M Rigg