PHSO Annual Scrutiny 2017/18: Towards a Modern and Effective Ombudsman Service Contents


1.The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman combines the statutory roles of Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and Health Service Commissioner for England.1 As such the Ombudsman adjudicates on complaints that have not been resolved by the NHS in England and UK Government Departments. The post is currently held by Rob Behrens. There are separate ombudsman arrangements for local government services in England and for public services provided by the devolved governments.

2.The Ombudsman is supported by an organisation, also known as the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, with approximately 420 staff and an annual budget of approximately £32m.2 For clarity, in this report we refer to Mr Behrens as “the Ombudsman” and the organisation he leads as the PHSO. Amanda Campbell is the Chief Executive of the PHSO.

3.The Ombudsman has discretion to choose which complaints he investigates. In 2017–18 he assessed 32,389 new complaints, of which he assessed 8,291 as being cases he could investigate, of these 2,429 were referred for investigation.3 PHSO completed 2,676 investigations in 2017–18, including complaints made in preceding years.4

4.The Ombudsman is independent of the Government, the NHS and Parliament. The postholder is accountable to Parliament, through the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC), for the overall performance of the PHSO and for its use of resources.5 This has traditionally been through an annual evidence session based on the PHSO annual report and accounts. PACAC does not inquire into individual cases. However, the Ombudsman can lay reports before Parliament, often to highlight cases that he decides raise issues of wider concern, which the Committee (or another select committee) may then scrutinise. An example published during 2017/18 was Ignoring the Alarms: How NHS eating disorder services are failing patients, that was laid before Parliament on 8 December 2017.6

5.The Committee’s predecessor the Public Administration Select Committee also carried out longer inquiries into NHS complaints handling, More Complaints Please!,7 and the future of the PHSO, Time for a People’s Ombudsman Service, in 2013–14.8 Time for a People’s Ombudsman recommended clarifying and strengthening the Ombudsman’s accountability, as well as combining the jurisdictions of the PHSO and the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman “to create a simpler and more straightforward Ombudsman’s service in England”.9 It also recommended reforming their powers to include the ability to carry out investigations on their own initiative, and to set local complaints handling standards [see Chapter 4].10

6.The Committee held its annual scrutiny session with the Ombudsman and Amanda Campbell on 22 January 2019. It also took evidence from Peter Tyndall and Dr Chris Gill, members of the Independent Peer Review panel [see chapter 2], on 9 January 2019. Questioning was focussed on the findings of the Independent Peer Review, the PHSO’s performance in 2017/18 and the delivery of the early stages of its new strategy for 2018–21. The Committee also accepted 33 written submissions. The Committee is thankful to all those who contributed to the inquiry.

1 Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, “Who we are” accessed 08 February 2019.

2 Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, “The Ombudsman’s Annual Report and Accounts 2017–18”, HC1388, 18 July 2018, p 73 & 79

3 Ibid pp 17–20

4 Ibid p 23

7 PASC, Twelfth Report of Session 2013–14, “More Complaints Please!” HC 229, 14 April 2014

8 PASC, Fourteenth Report of Session 2013–14, “Time for a People’s Ombudsman Service”, HC 655, 28 April 2014

9 Ibid para 83–88

10 Ibid paras 89–105

Published: 25 March 2019