The ‘Procedural regulations pertaining to the functioning of the office of health standards compliance and handling of complaints by the ombud’ (the procedural regulations) were brought into force on 13 October 2016.

The Office of Health Standards Compliance (The OHSC), was established by the National Health Act. It is responsible for the monitoring and enforcement of compliance by health establishments, including private hospitals, with norms and standards prescribed by the Minister of Health (the norms and standards regulations).

The norms and standards regulations were published in draft form in 2015 (Government Gazette 38486), and are currently awaiting translation before final publication. We expect the norms and standards regulations to be published in final form as soon as the translation process is complete. The OHSC is already operating to enforce them.

The norms and standards regulations include broad prescriptions relating to the provision and management of information concerning patient treatment, access to services and facilities, health record management, the treatment environment, continuity of care, user experience and complaint resolution. These prescriptions are applicable to public hospitals, clinics and community health centres, and to private acute hospitals and primary health clinics.

The procedural regulations empower the OHSC to request information from health establishments, to carry out inspections, and to receive and investigate complaints relating to the transgression of the norms and standards regulations by health establishments.

Inspectors appointed by the OHSC may enter and search any health establishment at any reasonable time, may question anyone and may require the production of any document or material for inspection. If entry is refused, the office may apply for a warrant from a judge or magistrate, however a warrant is not required where there are reasonable grounds to believe that (i) a warrant would be issued if applied for and (ii) the delay in obtaining a warrant would defeat the purpose of the search.

Following an inspection, an inspector may recommend that the office issues a compliance certificate certifying the establishment, or may issue a compliance note where the establishment has failed to comply with the norms and standards.

Should an establishment fail to achieve compliance within a time period stipulated by the OHSC, the office may hold formal hearings, impose fines, and institute disciplinary proceedings in terms of relevant legislation, such as the Health Professions Act 1974. Following continued non-compliance, the OHSC may revoke licenses and authorisations granted by the department of health.

The National Health Act stipulates that the OHSC is to contain an ombudsperson in respect of complaints in terms of the Act. The procedural regulations empower the Ombud to consider, investigate and dispose of complaints by requesting explanation from anyone which can be enforced by subpoena. Once a complaint has been investigated, the Ombud makes recommendations to the CEO of the OHSC on appropriate actions to be taken.

Any decision taken by the office or by the Ombud may be appealed, by written application, to the Minister of Health.

The procedural regulations were published in Government Gazette no. 40350 of 2016.