1 Introduction |
1. Mistakes, misunderstandings and maladministration
are common in our public services. The British public have a right
to complain. They often do so, not for their own benefit, but
to ensure the service learns from its mistakes and the same defect
is not inflicted on others. However these complaints are often
not resolved by the relevant service provider. If an individual
remains dissatisfied with the way their complaint has been handled
by a government department, agency, or by the NHS in England,
that individual can ask for their complaint to be referred to
the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) or can themselves
refer a complaint about the NHS. This Report seeks to examine
the effectiveness of current arrangements in relation to the office
of PHSO and the service it provides.
2. PASC scrutinises PHSO through annual
appearances of the Ombudsman at Committee. These sessions focus
on an examination of the strategy and performance of PHSO's service
to complainants, as detailed in its annual reports. This Report
follows a full examinationof PHSO's performance and effectiveness,
and how its remit and function can best serve both the public
and Parliament. Government and public services have changed since
the Parliamentary Ombudsman was first established in 1967. We
have reviewed PHSO's powers, its relationship with Parliament,
and how its role and purpose should be developed.
3. We have drawn on the work and role
other ombudsmen. PASC visited the Netherlands to learn about the
National Ombudsman of the Netherlands, and the relationship between
that office, the Dutch Government and the Dutch Parliament.A summary
of our visit is provided in the Annex. We held an informal meeting
with members of the public who had submitted information pertaining
to their experience of complaining to PHSO, and hosted a forum
discussion on the MoneySavingExpert website in order to
help shape our evidence session with the current PHSO, Dame Julie
Mellor. We have received,
as PASC does as a matter of course, a number of individual complaints
about public services and other matters, including complaints
about the office of PHSO. PASC does not have the capacity, nor
is it within our remit, to adjudicate individual cases. We recognise
that this can be very frustrating for individuals. Nevertheless
we are grateful for the insight such cases have added to our understanding
of how complaints can be handled or mishandled.
4. Our conclusions are aimed at creating
a more effectivePeople's Ombudsman service that better serves
the public and Parliament. We recommend a number of changes to
bring this into effect. We have also reported on our parallel
inquiry into complaints handling in government departments and
agencies, inMore Complaints Please!. We wish to thank all
those who contributed to this inquiry, with special thanks to
Dr Nick O'Brien for his support as a Specialist Adviser on this
piece of work.
History of the Parliamentary and
Health Service Ombudsman
5. PHSO is made up of two component
parts: The Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Health Service Ombudsman.
The post of Parliamentary Ombudsman was established in the Parliamentary
Commissioner Act (1967) as the public official who "may investigate
any action taken by, or on behalf of, a government department
or other authority".
The office of Health Service Ombudsman was created in the NHS
Reorganisation Act 1973 following the omission of the NHS in the
Parliamentary Commissioner Act. Both Acts have been subsequently
modified on a number of occasions, for example in the Health Service
Commissioner (Amendment) Act 1996, which broadened the scope of
the investigations by enabling the Health Service Commissioner
to investigate all aspects of NHS care and treatment, including
6. PHSOexamines complaints of 'maladministration',
a term which at the introduction of the Parliamentary Commissioner
Act was defined by the then Leader of the House of Commons, Richard
Crossman,as "bias, neglect, inattention, delay, incompetence,
inaptitude, perversity, turpitude, arbitrariness and so on".
Today PHSO states that:
our role is to investigate complaints
that individuals have been treated unfairly or have received poor
service from government departments and other public organisations
and the NHS in England.
|Box 1: Summary of the development of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.
1954-Crichel Down affair leads to public outrage at behaviour of public officials and to calls for an Ombudsman.
1961-Whyatt Report on behalf of JUSTICE recommends Parliamentary Ombudsman for UK.
1967-Parliamentary Commissioner ('the Parliamentary Ombudsman') established, and Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration Select Committee also created with dedicated oversight of the Ombudsman.
1973-Health Service Commissioner ('Health Service Ombudsman') established and post combined in person of the then Parliamentary Ombudsman.
1996-Health jurisdiction of Ombudsman extended to cover complaints about clinical judgment of health professionals.
1997-PASC assumes responsibility for scrutiny of PHSO's reports.
2000-Colcutt Review of public sector ombudsmen recommends single public services Ombudsman (not implemented in England).
2007-Parliamentary Ombudsman, Health Service Ombudsman and Local Government Ombudsman enabled to collaborate on investigations.
2009-Publication of PHSO's "Principles of Good Administration", "Principles of Good Complaint Handling", and "Principles for Remedy".
2011-Law Commission report on public services ombudsmen recommends a fundamental review of public services ombudsmen in England (not implemented).
1 MoneySavingExpert.com, Public Administration Select Committee: Have your say on the complaints process Back
Dr Nick O'Brien was appointed as a Specialist Adviser for this
inquiry on 11 June 2013. The following interests were declared:
an Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University;employed as
a fee-paid judge in the Mental Health Review Tribunal; held various
paid advisory and employed part-time posts at the Office of the
UK Parliamentary Ombudsman and Health Service Ombudsman between
2007-2012; contracted to prepare a policy position paper in April
2013 and facilitate a roundtable of academics for the Ombudsman
in May 2013 in respect of the forthcoming inquiry;contributing
to a project jointly for the Parliamentary Ombudsman, the Financial
Ombudsman Service and the Legal Ombudsman on options for future
shared approaches to redress; paid advisor to the Northern Ireland
Ombudsman on a project relating to the investigation of complaints. Back
Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967, Section 5 Back
Health Service Commissioner (Amendment) Act 1996, Section 6 Back
The Ombudsman - the developing role in the UK, Standard
Note SN/PC/04832, House of Commons Library, November 2012 Back
Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Welcome to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman,
accessed May 2013 Back