Joint Committee On Human Rights Written Evidence

Memorandum by Ann Abraham, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

  You will be aware that as Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman I undertake independent investigation into complaints that government departments, a range of other public bodies in the UK, and the NHS in England have not acted properly or fairly or have provided a poor service. It is my task to decide whether maladministration, service failure or both have occurred.

  In that capacity I very much welcome the Committee's initiative in inquiring into the human rights of adults with learning disabilities. You rightly cite the Mencap report, Death by indifference, published in March, and the Government's Adults with Learning Disabilities in England 2003-04 a survey published in September 2005. I am mindful too of the Healthcare Commission's report into the service for people with learning disabilities provided by Sutton and Merton Primary Care Trust published in January of this year.

  Although I am not currently in possession of any evidence that I can put before you in the way of identificable case studies, my remit regularly entails the investigation of complaints about health and social care services that almost certainly replicate difficulties encountered by people learning disabilities but which for one reason or another have not been translated into formal complaints to my Office. My Annual Report for 2005-06 identified "continuing care", for example, as one of the key areas requiring sustained attention on the part of the Department of Health and the Strategic Health Authorities.

  The desire to make human rights part of everything we do informs the work my Office has been undertaking to incorporate human rights considerations into our investigation of complaints. Our focus has been on raising awareness that human rights frequently affect the daily lives of many people seeking access to public services. I have also taken the opportunity to promote this approach in my discussions with Ombudsman colleagues in Europe. I spoke in Vienna at a General Assembly of the European Region of the International Ombudsman Institute last year; and I have just returned from a Round Table of European Ombudsmen and the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights in Athens where we explored, amongst other things, the scope for co-operation between Ombudsmen and National Human Rights Institutions. I enclose a copy of my Vienna speech to give you a flavour of the sort of approach that I am seeking to take and that will shape my future approach to complaints touching upon the human rights of people with learning disabilities.[3]

  Relevant too are the Principles of Good Administration recently published by my Office. The purpose of the Principles is to be clear both with complainants and public bodies about the sorts of behaviour we expect when public bodies deliver public service, and the tests we apply in deciding whether maladministration and service failure have occurred. You will see from the enclosed copy of the Principles that the very first principle makes reference to the need for public bodies to act with due regard to the rights of those concerned.1 That requirement will of course apply acutely in the context of meeting the needs of people with learning disabilities.

  If I can assist you further either in connection with this particular inquiry or more generally in connection with the work of the Committee, please do let me know.

Ann Abraham

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

14 May 2007

3   Not printed. Back

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