The role of highest authority for complaints regarding rights laid down in health and social services legislation
Complaints about clients’ rights include complaints about rights that are laid down in the Social Services Act, the Municipal Health Services Act and the Patients’ Rights Act. Since this type of complaint is dealt with in 19 counties, and involves judicial assessment, an important task for the Norwegian Board of Health Supervision as the highest authority is to ensure that people get their complaints dealt with fairly, independent of which county authority deals with their complaint.
With regard to complaints about social security benefits, which are dealt with by the County Governors, in March 2007, a report was published about dealing with complaints for the period 1995 to 2005. The report, produced by Oslo University College, clearly shows that there are differences between the counties in the outcome of complaints – that is whether the County Governors affirmed, reversed or revoked decisions made by the municipalities, or sent cases back to the municipalities to be dealt with again. On this background, the Norwegian Board of Health Supervision is investigating whether the differences reflect real differences, or whether they are the result of variation in administrative procedures in the municipalities.
As the highest authority, we have the authority to re-examine and reverse a decision made by the complaints authority, in accordance with the Public Administration Act, Section 35. This provision does not give patients and clients the right to complain about the decision again, but is meant to be a safety net for correcting unlawful or undesirable practice on the part of the complaints authority.
Since 2003, we have received 35 requests to assess whether to reverse a decision made by the complaints authority. We have reversed four of these decisions. These were complaints about the following:
- the right to delete medical records, in accordance with the Patients’ Rights Act, Section 5-2
- the right to receive essential health care (decision about being discharged from medication-assisted rehabilitation), in accordance with the Patients’ Rights Act, Section 2-1
- unlawful deduction of social security benefits, in accordance with the Social Services Act, Section 5-9 (benefits for a day nursery place that was respite care).
Decisions made by the complaints authorities are only reversed in exceptional circumstances. The decisions that we have reversed were all based on incorrect application of the legislation. They were also decisions that were important for the complainant.