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PACAC renews its calls for legislative reform of the PHSO

4 March 2024

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee publishes its report on the performance of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) from 2022-2023.

The report sees the cross-party Committee issue a renewed call for legislative reform to the PHSO’s structure and operations.

In its 2022 report the Committee called for the Government to prioritise Ombudsman reform and introduce a Bill before the end of the current Parliament. The Government responded by stating it ‘is not convinced that fundamental reform is a priority at the current time, nor that legislation is the answer to many of the identified issues’.

The Committee acknowledges the work the PHSO has done to attempt to clear the backlog of cases created by Covid-19 and welcomes the fact that the PHSO has met its 7-day target for making initial decision on cases. However, the report expresses continued concern that the PHSO has missed its target on cases decided following further consideration.

As the PHSO has failed to meet some of its own performance targets on taking decisions, PACAC asks for the PHSO to ‘provide details of the methodology it uses for deciding its targets for how quickly it should resolve cases subject to further consideration and outline any steps it will take to review that methodology to arrive at more realistic targets to be used in the future’.

In its report PACAC reiterates its concerns around PHSO’s continuation of its temporary measure, introduced to address the Covid backlog, of demarcating some cases as below the ‘severity of injustice’, meaning that these cases are not subject to detailed investigation.

The report discusses the quality of PHSO casework, noting that while it has received praise for its handling of cases, it has also received evidence of inadequate case working, including in particular poor experiences for disabled and elderly people. PACAC asks the PHSO to set out the steps it will take to address these concerns.

The report welcomes the increase in the number of cases resolved by mediation and is supportive of the PHSO’s ambition to broaden the range of cases resolved by mediation in 2023-24. Noting that this ambition will require addressing the potential barriers arising from the culture within the relevant bodies, PACAC says the Government should outline how it is working with NHS England and other stakeholders to promote a culture and training that is supportive of mediation among NHS staff and those working in government departments.

Scrutinising the PHSO’s staff management and training, the Committee welcomes the increase in the PHSO's number of staff, especially its new caseworkers, and welcomes that it has retained specialist workers and has increased the amount of training it delivers to staff. PACAC does however ask that the PHSO assess whether there are further steps it can take to reduce staff turnover.

Chair comment

Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee Chair, William Wragg MP, said:

“While we do make some positive commendations of the PHSO, such as the increased numbers of cases resolved by mediation, improved staffing levels and further progress on reducing the Covid backlog, our report makes clear that there remains work to be done by the organisation to address criticisms of its handling of casework and to evaluate and address staff turnover issues.

“As we have done annually for many years now to no avail, we are once again calling on the Government to bring forward what is now very long-overdue legislative reform of the PHSO, so that it can provide the level of service the public requires from it.

“Given the necessity of PHSO reform, we urge all political parties to include a commitment to reforming the legislation relating to the PHSO in their election manifestos ahead of the next General Election.”

Further information

Image credit: UK Parliament/Tyler Allicock