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MPs concerned at “substantial backlog” at NHS and Government complaints body

20 May 2022

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has today published its report on the performance of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) from 2020-2021.

The Committee notes the “substantial backlog” of cases at the complaints handler of last resort for NHS and Government services, which has developed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite steps taken by the PHSO to tackle it, MPs “remain concerned” at the impact of delays on complainants.

Figures in the PHSO annual report show that complainants had to wait longer for a decision on their case compared to 2019-2020, despite a smaller overall caseload. The difficulties have been attributed to a number of factors including NHS and Government departments struggling to contribute to PHSO's investigations due increased pressure from the pandemic, complications from remote working and an increase in the complexity of complaints.

The Committee also notes and welcomes progress in several areas, including the PHSO’s commitment to engaging more with its staff and ensuring diversity in the workforce, contributing to discussions in the international Ombudsman community, and developing a complaints standard for the NHS and Government bodies. The Committee awaits further updates on the actions the PHSO is taking to implement the 2018 Donaldson Review on the use of clinical advisers in its casework.

The Committee has repeated calls from previous years’ reports for the Government to bring forward legislation to reform the Ombudsman. The lack of action from the Government since the publication of the Draft Public Service Ombudsman Bill six years ago is, according to MPs, “as unacceptable as it is untenable in the long term.”

Chair's comments

Chair of PACAC William Wragg MP said:

“The pandemic brought about significant challenges to the work of the PHSO, with waiting times for decisions rising significantly. We will be looking for signs that efforts set out by the Ombudsman to tackle the backlog translate into an improved experience for complainants.”

In the long-term, the Government must take seriously the issue of reform of the Ombudsman and legislate to bring it in line with international best practice, providing greater access to justice for complainants.

We want to thank everyone who has shared their experiences with us for this inquiry and look forward to continuing to working positively and constructively with the PHSO to improve the vital public service it provides.”

Further information

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