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MPs lament NHS and Government complaints body’s “lack of ambition” to return to pre-pandemic service delivery levels

31 March 2023

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has today published its report on the performance of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) from 2021-22.

The Committee raises concerns with the PHSO continuing its policy of not considering less serious health complaints, introduced to reduce the backlog of cases resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite successfully reducing caseload levels, MPs do not see the policy as an “appropriate long-term solution”. MPs note it is “regrettable” that the organisation makes no reference in its recent corporate strategy for 2022-25 to how it will cope with the ongoing impacts of Covid-19 and high levels of cases.

The Committee also notes that it received written evidence that expressed dissatisfaction with the PHSO’s handling of complaints, and that the organisation failed to meet its targets for time taken to close cases, as reported in its annual report and accounts. The ambition to promote awareness of the PHSO's service is positive, but the strategy does not explain how the organisation would cope with potentially increased service demand.

The Committee repeats its call for the Government to bring forward Ombudsman reform law, originally drafted by Government seven years ago. According to the report, there is “widespread consensus” on the need to reduce complexity in the law and to bring the law in line with international best practice. MPs describe the Government’s continued refusal to address the issue as “unacceptable”.

The Committee welcomes improvement in areas such as its staff management and training programmes, as well as the speed at which the PHSO increased its caseworker numbers and developed a training academy for their induction to the role.

The Committee also notes the results of the 2022 independent peer review and encourages the PHSO to adopt its recommendations.

Chair's comment 

PACAC Chair William Wragg said:

“When individuals are failed by a public service, they deserve the right for their complaint to be heard and any injustice redressed.”

“While it is positive that the PHSO’s backlog of cases has been brought down substantially this year, we are disappointed that its policy of not investigating health complaints deemed as less serious will continue for at least another year. We have asked the PHSO to provide its evidence base for continuing this approach.

“Yet again, we are calling on the Government to bring forward the long-awaited reform of the Ombudsman and bring the UK in line with international standards. This Committee and its predecessors have made this recommendation for two decades. It is unacceptable the Government has not addressed this sooner.

“Finally, we want to thank those who shared evidence or experiences – sometimes deeply personal in nature – with us for this inquiry.”

Further information

Image: PA