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The Patients Association launches report on patients’ poor experiences with the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman

On Thursday, January 12, 2017, the Patients Association released a report on the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). The report reveals that a significant number of patients and family members who submit complaints to the PHSO feel that they receive a poor quality service.

The Patients Association’s national Helpline received nearly 300 calls between May and October 2016 from people who had concerns about the way their cases were being dealt with by the PHSO.  An investigation into the nature of the calls has revealed the findings contained in this follow-up report.

This follows the Patients Association’s first report published two years ago entitled ‘The Peoples’ Ombudsman – How it Failed us’ and its subsequent report released in March 2015 entitled ‘PHSO – Labyrinth of Bureaucracy.’  These reports catalogued the many calls, emails and letters received from patients and their families who had negative and ineffectual dealings with the PHSO.

Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, said:

“The number of calls that our national Helpline receives about the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman remains high. It is unacceptable that the experience of too many complainants remains of a system which is too complicated, unresponsive and lacking in compassion.  The majority of complainants are motivated to complain by a desire to improve the system for others by sharing the poor experiences they have had. The PHSO, representing the final stage in the NHS complaints process, should act as a reliable, fair and robust final arbiter. As evidenced by the wide variety of contacts received by the Patients Association, this is not the case.

Katherine Murphy added:

“We acknowledge that there are many patients who go through the PHSO’s complaints system and are satisfied with the outcome. Unfortunately, these are not the patients we tend to hear from and it is to the patients who have contacted us with their stories that we dedicate this report.

“On the PSHO’s own website the organisation recognises the common complaints raised about the service but from the contacts we have received, nothing seems to have improved and lessons do not appear to have been learned. Some people describe that they feel they are ‘battling the PHSO’ and, although they are determined to pursue their complaints, they feel exhausted by the whole process.

“The Patients Association believes that complainants deserve to be treated with greater respect and compassion when engaging with the PHSO. We call on the Government once again to address the long-standing issues with the PHSO and provide a complaints handling service which is fit for purpose.”

The report sets out a number of key areas of concern raised by patients, including that the PHSO:

  • does not investigate complaints fairly – evidence is ignored;
  • is biased in favour of the organisation they are supposed to be investigating;
  • makes the process unnecessarily complicated – they ask questions that the complainant has already answered or cannot answer;
  • changes case worker/investigator without informing the complainant;
  • often takes weeks or months to respond to queries from complainants;
  • produces reports that are inadequately investigated, inaccurate and incomplete;
  • fails to use the complaints process to ensure that lessons are learned at local level- Trusts are not asked to demonstrate that recommendations have been acted upon and improvements made;
  • does not treat complainants respect or compassion – complainants are made to feel as though they are a nuisance for complaining and that they are wasting the PHSO’s time.

The Patients Association notes that in response to the many criticisms, the PHSO has increased the number of cases it investigates. However, unless the quality of investigations undertaken improves this will be of little assistance or reassurance to patients and their families.


Notes to Editor

About the report

  • Here is a link to the full report: https://www.patients-association.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/PHSO-Follow-up-report-FINAL-2016.pdf 
  • It is now two years since the Patients Association issued its initial report setting out the failings of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) in dealing with complaints raised by patients and their relatives about their experience of NHS services (Patients Association: 2014).
  • In March 2015, a further report ‘PHSO – Labyrinth of Bureaucracy’ was published by the Patients Association cataloguing the many calls, emails and letters received from patients and their families and representatives echoing and emphasising the continuing, negative experiences people had in their dealings with the PHSO.
  • The report was written in December 2016.

About the PHSO

  • The PHSO was set up by Parliament to provide an independent complaint handling service. It is described as ‘the final stage for complaints about the NHS in England and public services delivered by the UK Government’ (http://www.ombudsman.org.uk/about-us/who-we-are).
  • The organisation is accountable to Parliament and its work is scrutinised by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC).
  • There is no right of appeal against decisions of the Ombudsman and decisions on cases cannot be overruled by a government minister or parliamentary committee. Decisions of the Ombudsman are, however, subject to judicial review.
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