31.The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) combines the two statutory roles of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (Parliamentary Ombudsman) and the Health Service Commissioner for England (Health Service Ombudsman), whose powers are set out in the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967 (the PCA) and the Health Service Commissioner Act 1993 (HSCA) respectively and from time to time reports to Parliament on wider themes emerging from its casework.
32.It is a function of PACAC to examine these reports and to use their findings to hold Government to account. As part of this role we published a report: Ignoring the Alarms follow-up: Too many avoidable deaths from eating disorders, which followed-up on a PHSO report on NHS eating disorder services. As part of that inquiry, we held an informal seminar with people who had lived experience of having, or being carers for people who have, a variety of eating disorders to better understand their experiences and inform our conclusions and recommendations. In our report we concluded that, while some welcome steps have been taken in response to the PHSO’s recommendations, sufficient progress has not yet been made to improve services for people with eating disorders.
33.The PHSO is accountable for its finances and administration to this Committee. PACAC’s scrutiny of the PHSO’s work is done principally by examining its reports, including through an annual scrutiny session with the Ombudsman following publication of its Annual Report and Accounts. In the 2017–19 Session we held two such scrutiny sessions and published a report following each session. PHSO Annual Scrutiny 2016–17 was published on 24 April 2018 and PHSO Annual Scrutiny 2017/18: Towards a Modern and Effective Ombudsman Service was published on 25 March 2019. As set out in the second report, the PHSO has faced significant challenges in recent years which led to a significant loss of public and stakeholder confidence in the organisation. An independent peer review of the organisation concluded that the PHSO was moving out of ‘critical care’ and into ‘recovery’, a conclusion we accepted although we also agreed that there was a need to guard against complacency. The PHSO published its annual report and accounts for 2018–19 on 22 July 2019, which we expect will form the basis for the next such scrutiny session.
34.In our report PHSO Annual Scrutiny 2017/18: Towards a Modern and Effective Ombudsman Service, we reiterated the need for legislation to reform the PHSO’s governance and we strongly recommend that pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Public Service Ombudsman Bill is included in the next Queen’s Speech. We will continue to press for this legislation as a matter of urgency. We will also continue to press for the introduction of the HSSIB Bill as soon as possible, so that the work of PHSO will be complimented by the new Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch of the Department of Health with the statutory independence and other legal powers that it requires, in order to be effective.
21 Seventeenth Report from the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee of Session 2017–19, , HC 855, June 2019.
22 , Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, December 2017, HC 634. The report was presented to Parliament pursuant to Section 14(4) of the Health Service Commissioners Act 1993.
23 Third Report from the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee of Session 2017–19, , HC 492, April 2018.
24 Sixteenth Report from the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee of Session 2017–19, , HC 1855, March 2019.
Published: 8 October 2019