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Government continues to delay fundamental ombudsman reform, MPs hear

16 June 2023

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee today publishes the UK Government’s and Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman’s responses to the Committee’s annual scrutiny report on the ombudsman.

The Government has said that it is “not convinced” that reform to ombudsman law is a priority. This follows a repeated call in the Committee’s report, published in March, for fundamental reform, with MPs describing the Government’s continued refusal to address the issue as “unacceptable”. 

The Committee expressed concern with the PHSO’s continued policy of not considering less serious health complaints, introduced to reduce a casework backlog caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In its response, the PHSO highlights that the approach is “common among the ombudsman community” and says “delaying consideration of more serious matters is not a reasonable use of public funds.” 

The Committee welcomes steps being taken by the PHSO to improve the efficiency of its processes, including a more user-focused approach to casework and creating a public engagement advisory group to provide feedback on its services. The PHSO’s work on developing central complaints standards for the NHS and Government departments, to provide guidance on best-practice, is also welcomed.  

The Government accepted the report’s recommendation for the Cabinet Office to actively encourage other departments to adopt the central complaints standard. 

Chair's comments

Committee Chair, William Wragg MP, said:  

“I am pleased to see the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman mostly accepts our recommendations and sets out a promising plan to deliver improvements in its corporate strategy for 2022-25. However, we remain concerned by the Ombudsman’s decision to continue deprioritising less serious complaints.  It is essential that when individuals are let down by public services, they can voice their complaints and wrongs can be righted. 

Furthermore, it is disappointing that the Government has again failed to recognise the importance and urgency of sector-wide ombudsman reform. The current arrangements are outdated and needlessly complex and prevent the public from effective access to justice in cases of wrongdoing. The UK Government has already drafted the necessary legislation in 2016, yet it remains sidelined. This Committee will continue to make the case for fundamental legislative reform. 

The Committee looks forward to receiving updates from the Ombudsman and the Government on their progress in implementing accepted recommendations.” 

Further information

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