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Government still ‘not convinced’ by case for reform of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

23 May 2024

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 Committee’s report in March saw MPs renew their calls for legislative reform of the PHSO. In the same wording as was used in its response to the Committee last year, the Government response again states that ‘Government is not convinced that fundamental reform is a priority at the current time, nor that legislation is the answer to many of the issues identified by the Committee. We are, however, content to keep this under review and to look at specific proposals for reform on a case-by-case basis’.

The PHSO itself welcomed the Committee’s recommendation for legislative reform and said it was ‘regrettable’ that the Government had chosen not to act on the recommendations. 

The Ombudsman was supportive of PACAC’s recommendation that all political parties include a commitment in their upcoming manifestos ahead of the next General Election to reform the legislation relating to the PHSO. 

PACAC has been calling for reform of the PHSO since 2014 when its predecessor Committee published its report ‘Time for a People’s Ombudsman Service’. 

The Committee’s report discussed the quality of PHSO’s casework. While PACAC heard praise for the PHSO’s handling of cases, it also received evidence of inadequate case working, including poor experiences for disabled and elderly people.  

In its response to the Committee’s concerns on this issue, the PHSO said that it is “committed to providing a high quality, empathetic and timely service to everyone, including people with disabilities”.  

The Ombudsman stressed that to “accommodate the diverse needs of complainants”, it offers “a range of measures and reasonable adjustments, tailored to individual requirements”.  

The Ombudsman said it is planning for its staff to be trained on disability awareness, “with a view to enabling staff to recognise when these characteristics arise as a factor in a complaint and better understand the lived experience of individuals and families”. 

The Committee’s report also scrutinised the PHSO’s use of mediation and welcomed the increase in the number of cases resolved by mediation. MPs said that 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. 

In the response published today the Government stated that ‘NHS England will work with DHSC and NHS Resolution to encourage the medical profession to engage in mediation to facilitate the resolution of a complaint.’ 

The PHSO’s response announced that the organisation is, in 2024–25, “aiming to strengthen the data [it] collects on [its] mediation cases to help inform a mediation strategy”. 

The Ombudsman stated that this will allow it “to improve [its] understanding of where mediation is likely to be the most appropriate tool and also determine whether mediation actually provides value for money as a long-term alternative to investigations.” 

Further information

Image: House of Commons