Ombudsman reveals high level of public service failures

Too many unresolved complaints are being taken to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman which could have been resolved by public services locally, meaning that people are left waiting longer for answers and that much needed service improvements are delayed.

A new Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman report published today has revealed the devastating impact that public service failures can have on individuals and how its investigations have resulted in the organisations putting things right for people.

The report is a snapshot of 192 case summaries of the 1,075 investigations of unresolved complaints the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) completed investigating in February and March 2015.

It includes cases about delayed asylum claims, nursing home patients being wrongly charged thousands of pounds for their nursing home care, delays in diagnosis which meant that one woman was left with unrelenting facial pain for more than a decade, poor end of life care and poor treatment of sepsis, commonly referred to as blood poisoning.

People often take their unresolved complaints to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman because they want an apology, an explanation of what went wrong and to ensure the service improves for others. The report shows that far too many people are left waiting longer for answers and that much needed service improvements are delayed.

The report includes investigations which have resulted in a hospital trust apologising to a grieving daughter for the failings in its treatment of her father, who died from sepsis. The trust also took action to prevent the same thing from happening again, following the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s intervention. Another investigation resulted in a nursing home patient being refunded £102,000 in nursing home care costs he was wrongly charged.
Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Julie Mellor said:

‘Many people complain about public services out of a sense of public duty, because they don’t want what happened to them or their loved one to happen to someone else.

‘In many of the complaints we see, the organisation complained about has done the right thing to put things right. But too many people aren’t getting the answers to what went wrong from the organisation they complained about.

‘Complaints alert people to where problems are and should be welcomed by all levels of the organisation from the frontline to the board, so that much-needed improvements are made.’
The report contains 116 investigations about the NHS in England and the remaining 76 investigation summaries are about UK government departments and organisations such as the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) and HM Courts & Tribunals Service.

During February and March 2015, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman upheld 34% of the unresolved complaints it investigated. In cases where the complaints were not upheld, it is often because no failings were identified or because it found that the public service did the right thing to resolve the complaint.

When complaints are upheld, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman makes recommendations for organisations to put things right. These can include an apology from the organisation to the complainant, a financial remedy, action plans to ensure mistakes are not repeated, staff training, or changes to policy and procedures. More than 99% of the organisations comply with its recommendations.

Most of the summaries published are cases the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has upheld or partly upheld. These are the cases which provide clear and valuable lesson for public services by showing what needs to change to help avoid the same mistake happening again, including complaints about failures to spot serious illnesses and mistakes by government departments that caused people financial hardship.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman investigates approximately 4,000 complaints a year and upholds around 37%.