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Cancer care and your rights


Key questions

Patients have certain rights and responsibilities when accessing health care in Australia. Knowing your health care rights and responsibilities – and understanding how you can play an active role in your health care – can help you get the best possible outcomes.

Your health care rights

The Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights describes your rights when receiving health care in Australia.

Below is a summary of the seven rights included in the charter and how they may contribute to the quality of health care your receive. For more information, visit safetyandquality.gov.au/your-rights.

In addition to the Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights, The Private Patients’ Hospital Charter sets out the rights and responsibilities of private patients in public and private hospitals and day procedure centres.

  • Access - You have a right to access health services and treatments that meet your needs. If you have a current Medicare card and are treated in a public hospital as a public patient, you have a right to access care at little or no cost.
  • Safety - You have a right to receive high-quality, evidence-based care in an environment that is safe. If you are worried that something has been overlooked, talk with your health care provider and ask for a clinical review. If required, you should receive instructions about how to safely care for yourself at home.
  • Respect - You have a right to be treated as an individual, and with dignity and respect. You also have a right to have your culture, identity, beliefs and choices recognised and respected.
  • Partnership - You have a right to ask questions and make decisions about your treatment and care in partnership with your health care team. You have the right to include family members and carers in your decision-making and meetings with doctors.
  • Information - You have a right to receive clear information about your health and the possible benefits and risks of different tests and treatments, so you can give informed consent. You have the right to receive information about the costs of tests and treatments and wait times. You can ask questions if you need more information. If English is not your first language, you can request interpreter services, which may be free. If something goes wrong, you should be told about it and what is being done to fix it. You have the right to obtain a second opinion and to gain access to your own health information.
  • Privacy - You have a right to privacy. Your personal and health information must be kept private, secure and confidential (except in limited circumstances). This includes discussions with health care providers, and your written and online medical records.
  • To give feedback - You have a right to give feedback or make a complaint, and for any concerns to be dealt with fairly and in a timely way.

The importance of rights

Understanding your rights and what you can reasonably expect of your treatment team and health care services – and what can be expected of you – will help you navigate the system and take an active role in your care.

It’s important that you feel comfortable to ask questions and get the support you need. Health care that responds to your needs, preferences and values, as well as the needs of your family and carers, is known as person-centred care. This means that your health care providers will respect your care goals, and involve you as an equal partner when planning your treatment and ongoing care. Working in partnership to make joint decisions about your care can lead to better outcomes.

How health care rights are protected

Everyone who works in a health service is responsible for upholding health care rights which help people receive safe, high-quality and person-centred care.

Some rights are legally protected. There are laws covering discrimination, medical treatment, the conduct of health professionals and hospital services, and the privacy of personal information, which health professionals and health care services must comply with. Other health care rights reflect fair and reasonable expectations for care.

Discrimination

In Australia, it is generally unlawful for health services to discriminate on the basis of age, disability, race, sex, intersex status, gender identity and sexual orientation.

Patient responsibilities

Health professionals understand that dealing with cancer is challenging and many people feel vulnerable at this time. Developing an open and trusting relationship with your health care team during this time is important. If you expect your health care providers to behave in a certain way – for example, to communicate openly – it helps to behave the same way in return. Many hospitals and treatment centres have guidelines on patient responsibilities that cover the following three areas.

Being considerate

These responsibilities relate to practical issues, including:

  • treating staff and other patients with courtesy and respect
  • being on time for appointments or letting the health care provider know if you are unable to attend an appointment
  • following any policies of your health service, such as visiting hours, using mobile phones, smoke-free areas, etc.
  • seeking permission if you would like to record consultations.

Being honest and open

A key responsibility is to make sure your treatment team has all the information they need to offer treatment that is best for you.  Tell your treatment team if:

  • you have a question or problem – it’s vital that you communicate any issues that you don’t understand or that are troubling you so your team can help. If English is not your first language, you can ask for an interpreter.
  • there are factors in your life that might affect treatment decisions – for example, if you live alone or care for a young family
  • you have side effects or pain – your team may be able to adjust the treatment or offer you medicine to relieve side effects
  • you’re seeing more than one doctor or another health professional (including complementary or alternative therapy practitioners) for any part of your care
  • you decide not to follow their advice – for example, by not taking prescribed medicine or having certain tests
  • you are taking any other medicines (including over-the-counter drugs, complementary and alternative medicines, and bush medicines). Some medicines interact with cancer drugs, causing side effects or reducing the effectiveness of the cancer treatment.

Being flexible

Your doctor plans your treatment based on your initial test results and overall health. You will then have tests to check your response to treatment, and your doctor may have to reassess the original treatment plan. It’s important to be flexible and to accept that your treatment may change. If changes occur, you still have the right to be involved in making decisions about a new treatment plan.

It’s common to have to wait for tests and treatment in public hospitals. Waiting for treatment can be stressful – if you are anxious, speak to your doctor or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

Cancer Care and Your Rights

Download our Cancer Care and Your Rights booklet to learn more and find support.

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Expert content reviewers:

Prof Sarah Lewis, Faculty of Medicine and Health, The University of Sydney, NSW; Kevin Bloom, Senior Social Worker, Haematology and Bone Marrow Transplant, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Danielle Curnoe, Consumer; Alana Fitzgibbon, Clinical Nurse Consultant – Gastro-Intestinal Cancers, Cancer Services, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Hall & Wilcox (law firm); Johanna Jordaan, Consumer; Dr Deme Karikios, Medical Oncologist, Nepean Cancer and Wellness Centre, Nepean Hospital, NSW; Melissa Lawrie, Breast Cancer Clinical Nurse, Cancer Services, Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service, QLD; Jacqueline Lesage, Consumer Reviewer, Cancer Voices NSW; McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Louise Pellerade, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Andrew Potter, Consumer; Siân Slade, PhD Candidate, Nossal Institute for Global Health and Non-Executive Director (health, disability sectors), VIC; Paula Watt, Clinical Psychologist, WOMEN Centre, WA.

Page last updated:

The information on this webpage was adapted from Cancer Care and Your Rights (2023 edition). This webpage was last updated in July 2023. 

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