Ombudsman bids to take over NHS complaints

Ombudsman bids to take over NHS complaints

The Health Service Journal has interviewed, ombudsman Rob Behrens who told them  he would be arguing for changes to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s powers to allow him to launch investigations without a formal complaint and for the ombudsman to become a complaints standards authority with regulatory powers over the NHS.

Reports that the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman is to seek regulatory powers to help deliver a consistent NHS complaints service come as a new report says the watchdog is “in recovery” after a period of crisis. This concluded that Mr Behrens and his team had significantly improved the organisation since it was plunged into crisis following the resignation of his predecessor, Dame Julie Mellor, and her deputy.

While the panel behind the report praised Mr Behrens’ leadership and the reforms in place as part of a three year strategy, it added the PHSO was “stuck in time” due to its outdated legislation which “currently limits its ability to do more in terms of improving public services”. It continued: “The PHSO is now out of line with other UK public services ombudsman offices and wider international practice in this regard.”

Issues highlighted in the review included complaints having to come via MPs, the lack of an integrated jurisdiction across public services and the PHSO’s inability to launch its own investigations without complaints.

Mr Behrens told HSJ the report was “endlessly constructive” and a valuable assessment of the progress made in the past 18 months. However, he added: “There is nothing to be complacent about. We have begun a three year change process and we are nowhere near completed and have a lot to do to get where we need to be.”

On the changes he wanted to see to the PHSO’s powers, Mr Behrens said: “If we became a complaints standard authority, as is the case with the Scottish ombudsman, then we could have an element of regulatory power in telling bodies in jurisdiction they have to improve their complaint handling using a framework we set out. I am careful about asking for regulatory powers but, in this case, having looked at Scotland, it does work, and it would enable us to regularise complaints handling in the NHS. I am going to argue for that.”

Mr Behrens said the PHSO was lagging behind European ombudsman services, adding: “It’s widely recognised the legislation is outdated and too formal in its approach. Lagging behind others is not where England should be. My colleagues in Europe cannot believe we don’t have own initiative powers. Most have them and it is regarded as routine. It enables investigations where people can’t make a complaint or feel they may be victimised if they do. That is not acceptable in the modern age.”

See report at


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