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Patients Association - “NHS watchdog to probe complaints about needless deaths as it warns of 'appalling' failures to investigate”

Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of the Patients Association welcomes this, but calls for clarification on the accountability of the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman and asks the following questions – are their investigations fit for purpose; do they have staff with the right skills and expertise to investigate? 

Are their reports thorough? Are they effective? Are they sharing learning and are they helping the NHS reduce the likelihood of the same mistakes happening time and again?

The Patients Association has worked with many families who have been failed by the quality of NHS investigations following serious harm or the preventable death of a loved one. Many families who find themselves in this situation turn to the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO), the organisation that has the power to independently investigate where the NHS has failed to do so. In far too many cases the PHSO has also failed to investigate, and when it does, the investigations appear to be light touch, conducted at arm’s length and biased in favour of the systems being investigated

Furthermore, our experience of how the PHSO itself responds to complaints about its own failures to investigate such cases properly, has been extremely concerning. This is often characterised by defensiveness which we see too often in the NHS.

In the case of a family we are currently working with, a detailed complaint about an avoidable death of a family member was submitted to PHSO over two months ago, yet has only just been assigned a case officer for review. Why should patients who are grieving have to wait this extraordinary length of time for an investigation? Why 
should patients that have suffered injustice in the hands of the NHS, also have to shoulder the burden of responsibility for trying to make sure that lessons are learnt so that mistakes are not repeated.

We believe that the PHSO could make a huge difference in encouraging and supporting the NHS by improving the quality of the way such serious cases are investigated. But first they must ensure that their own systems and processes are fit for purpose and are effective.

Serious avoidable incidents in the NHS should be properly investigated independently of the NHS complaints process. In cases where families are forced to turn to the complaints system for answers, the PHSO should be there to provide an effective independent appeals process that responds consistently and robustly. We are seeing far too many examples where this still simply isn't happening.

The Patients Association is currently working with families who have experience of the PHSO's handling of these most serious types of complaints. The PHSO costs the taxpayer almost £40 million a year. The public deserve an Ombudsman who will work in the best interests of the complainant; listen to the complainant, understand what went wrong, how it went wrong and why it went wrong. They need an organization that will undertake a robust and effective investigation and interview staff, but most importantly share the learning to make sure that the same thing never happens again. The public deserve this. If we are to achieve the vision of the Secretary of State for Health of a safe, effective, compassionate and honest NHS, then we have to have a PHSO that is accountable and answerable for their actions and their work must be independently scrutinized.

Notes for Editors

  1. The Patients Association is a campaigning charity, listening to patients and speaking up for change. It has been working for over 50 years to make sure that the patient voice is heard and listened to by policy makers.

  2. For further information please contact the Patients Association on 02084239111 or on  07779 004898

To see more information on the Patients Association visit www.patients-association.com

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