Health Ombudsman resignation brings ‘clean-out’ call from Southport councillor

A local health watchdog has welcomed the resignation of Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) Dame Julie Mellor – but says that this is not enough if the NHS complaints system is to be made fit for purpose.

Southport NHS spokesperson, Lib Dem  Councillor Tony Dawson has been dealing professionally with NHS complaints for over 30 years which has brought him into repeated contact with the PHSO. He says that the amalgamation of the final stage of the NHS complaints procedure into an under-resourced Ombudsman service was the crunch-point which made the service unfit for purpose but also believes there is an institutional element.

“Basically,” he says, “the PHSO picks and chooses which cases it deals with, leaving many hundreds of people every year with no independent redress. Sometimes the decisions which come back from the Ombudsman Service are so far ‘off the page’ that one wonders whether the staff involved are even capable of reading the paperwork. Quality control and information-handling processes have been shown up as inadequate. The organisation needs a complete clean-out.”

Councillors seeking steps forward on Southport’s street scene

Ombudsman Dame Julie Mellor has resigned after details emerged indicating that her deputy, Mick Martin, covered up the sexual harassment of an NHS director who later won over £800,000 in a wrongful-termination-of-contract lawsuit.

The national Patients Association have also commented scathingly that this instance is “reflective of a wider culture of unaccountability at the PHSO, which has developed a reputation for opacity.”

” The PHSO has failed patients for far too long,” they say. ” Complaints are an essential component in improving services and patient outcomes, yet this is all too frequently overlooked by the PHSO.”

The Patients Association has regularly commentated on the PHSO, including an open letter to the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the 2014 report ‘The peoples Ombudsman – how it failed us’ and another report last year entitled ‘Labyrinth of Bureaucracy’.  These reports found that patients view the PHSO as a ‘secretive’ and ‘defensive’ body which ‘adds to the already great stress’ that families, patients and carers feel when making a complaint. They cited experiences which are indicative of an organisation that takes the side of those it is investigating more readily than those it is charged to represent. They tell of the PHSO’s failure to undertake comprehensive investigations, and where inaccurate reports are commonplace.

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

“The public rightly expects that as an ombudsman, the PHSO should be able to be held up as a shining beacon of outstanding public standards and independent action. However, the Patients Association has worked with many families who have been let down by the quality of PHSO investigations.”

” In far too many cases the PHSO has 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.

“The quality, openness and honesty of the PHSO’s reports have been shameful. We receive cases every day from patients and their relatives who are distressed by the way their case has been mishandled by the PHSO.

Councillor Dawson adds:

“The Health Ombudsman is the point of last resort where uncorrected mistakes by the NHS ought to be finally capable of being put right.”

“Unfortunately, the PHSO process is not fit for purpose and can end up compounding the grief of families. It is unaccountable, of dubious integrity and ineffective in instilling change. Although the PHSO’s costs the nation £40 million a year, nobody really has any idea of how it functions; what training their investigators get,or what, if anything, is achieved once many of their investigations are concluded.”



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