Patients Association calls for a transparent Health Ombudsman

The Patients Association is an independent national health and social care charity established over 50 years ago and has a long history of campaigning to ensure that the voice of patients is heard within the Health and Social care system.

The PHSO is failing families, leaving them distressed and totally worn down, state the Patients Association who have seen worrying trends through their National Helpline.

The Patients Association raise concern that the PHSO which should be a catalyst for change is failing to challenge poor practice and bring about change in the NHS.

The Patients Association and the families are calling on the Public Administration Select Committee to address the failings of the Parliamentary and Heath Service Ombudsman and establish a truly independent, transparent and peoples Ombudsman.

The work of the Health Ombudsman is unaccountable and wholly ineffective according to families who have raised concerns about the system, say the Patients Association charity today (18 November).

The report highlights how families having turned to the PHSO in desperation and as a last resort, feel stonewalled by the PHSO during inadequate, untimely, secretive and unacceptably flawed and out dated investigation processes.

A new report highlights detailed cases where patients and their families have been badly failed by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). Each story is written personally by the complainant or by their family members. All speak of how their interactions with the Ombudsman have compounded the grief and hurt they were already feeling through loss of loved ones or due to poor NHS care.

For nearly 3 years, the Patients Association have supported the parents of Sam Morrish, a three year old boy from Devon, who died after a string of NHS blunders. Sam died in 2010, but it was only in the summer of this year that the Ombudsman pronounced on the case – Sam’s parents are heavily critical of the PHSO investigation process.

James Titcombe has publicly and repeatedly asked the PHSO to carry out an internal review into the decision not to investigate the death of his baby son Joshua. James is quoted as saying “From Dame Julie Mellor, all we hear is the sound of silence.”

In another case, the family raised serious concerns about the care afforded to their daughter who died of anorexia, despite the family spending a year compiling a detailed dossier for the PHSO, it still took the Ombudsman over two months to appoint an investigator to their case.

In a further case, a woman died after keyhole surgery for a hernia repair, the family described the two year process with the Ombudsman as “gruelling and destructive”. They added “It has forced us to spend almost three years of our lives trying to limit the harm the Ombudsman’s so called investigation has done to us.”

Some patients have been led to believe that the PHSO is inappropriately preventing them raising concerns regarding inaccuracies and other errors in PHSO draft reports. The PHSO is effectively gagging those families. This is highlighted in the case of a child whose mother has devoted nearly 3 years challenging the PHSO on decisions made which were error based. B’s mother was specifically prohibited from sharing the contents of a draft letter.

In another case the family of Jo Deering have been left feeling totally alone and unsupported as a result of the Ombudsman’s investigation. Whilst detained under the Mental Health Act, Jo was granted extended leave. She committed suicide whilst on leave but the Ombudsman refuse to investigate the decisions made that ultimately lead to Jo’s death.

Mr Holt was left devastated and insulted when on the recommendation of the Ombudsman the Trust offered him £250 compensation following the death of his wife Jennifer, due to a preventable fall.

Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of the Patients Association said: “We wish we could say cases like that of Sam Morrish and those other families are a once in lifetime situation, but they are not. We receive cases every week where people are distressed and even traumatised by the way their case has been mishandled by the PHSO”.

“The Health Ombudsman should be a court of last resort where uncorrected mistakes by the NHS can finally be put right, but the process is not fit for purpose and often ends up compounding the grief of families. The quality, accuracy, objectivity, effectives, openness and honesty of its reports is shameful.”

Katherine Murphy added: “The PHSO cost to the public purse is around £40 million a year, but we have no idea how it really does its job. The total cost to society and families far exceeds the £40 million funding the Ombudsman receives. The emotional cost for families far outweighs the huge financial cost.”

The Patients Association has evidence of serious failings of the PHSO and says it’s time to hold them to account for those failings. The words spoken publicly by the PHSO that there needs to be more care and compassion in the NHS and an end to the toxic culture need to be matched with significant action.

We cannot expect Trusts in the NHS to handle complaints appropriately if they are confident that the PHSO will not find failings against them. Radical reform in complaints handling is of paramount importance across the NHS and the PHSO.

The Patients Association is urging the Public Administration Select Committee and the Government to bring about that radical change and give the public confidence that complaints will be fully and professionally investigated.

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 0208 423 9111 or 0777 900 4898

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