Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
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Government and Ombudsman must improve handling of NHS complaints

The Government needs to take action to improve the NHS complaints system, properly investigate cases of historic injustice and modernise the legislation for England's Ombudsmans' services, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) says.

The Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman is the final tier of complaint for people unhappy with their experience of the NHS in England and Government departments. Last year it received 31,444 new complaints, 88% about the NHS.

Slow progress

PACAC's report on the PHSO's work in 2016-17 agrees with the PHSO's new Chief Executive that the time it has taken to investigate complaints is, "simply unacceptable". The Committee is also calling on the PHSO to improve how it supports often very distressed complainants, and to get better at showing how its investigations help improve NHS' services for future patients.

However, many of the challenges the PHSO faces are made harder by the Government’s slow progress on reforms to the complaints system. PACAC therefore calls on the Government to accelerate the legislation to modernise the Ombudsman and on the Department of Health to improve local NHS complaints handling and to properly resolve the historic cases where families feel they are still being denied justice.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Committee Bernard Jenkin said:

"Although it has much more to do we are cautiously confident that the PHSO under the new Ombudsman Rob Behrens is now on the right track. We welcome the personal commitment he has shown to rebuilding trust in the PHSO and improving the service it provides to the public.

As a Committee we have heard from families left distressed and traumatised by making a complaint to the NHS and the PHSO. Too many people still have to complain to the Ombudsman because public services don’t deal with their complaint properly in the first place.

The Ombudsman and his staff do a difficult job. The Government can help them by introducing the reforms it has already promised. Ministers told our committee two years ago that improving NHS complaints was "unfinished business". It is now time for action, and for the Government to introduce the long awaited legislation they have already published."

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