Dear Mr Hunt,
You will be aware that on November 18 the Patients Association published a report outlining numerous failings on the part of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). We included in our report the personal accounts from a sample of seven patients, or their relatives, who had experienced an unacceptably poor service from the PHSO. The report provides evidence of incompetence by the PHSO in its flawed investigations process, unacceptable delays, bias in favour of the service being complained about, lack of transparency and, perhaps most shocking of all, a complete lack of compassion in their dealings with people who are seeking their help.
We are greatly concerned for the impact of the failing PHSO on those people who have contacted the Patients Association to tell us of their experiences. What is of equal concern is that a key part of the role of the PHSO – to ensure that learning from these tragedies takes place at local level – is not happening. The PHSO should be finding out why and how these incidents have happened and what learning has taken place to ensure that there is no recurrence.
Instead, the PHSO is simply compounding the problems already encountered by these patients and their families and apparently doing nothing to prevent repetition. In our report we asked both Government and the Public Administration Select Committee to read our patients’ stories, consider our recommendations and to hold the PHSO to account for its actions. We now repeat that request.
As a result of the publicity surrounding the publication of our report, we have been inundated with further complaints about the PHSO’s mishandling of referrals made to it – more than 140 cases so far. The Patients Association is a charity with far more limited resources than the PHSO, but we are being approached by patients and families on a daily basis who feel they have nowhere else to go. The situation is critical and many of the people who have approached us are feeling let down, exhausted and desperate for someone to listen to them and put right the wrongs they have suffered.
Some of the accounts are harrowing and heart-breaking and it is hard to believe that these things are happening to vulnerable people in hospitals and other care settings.
If the PHSO was a school or a hospital, evidently failing so demonstrably, special measures would be introduced as a matter of urgency to stop the rot and prevent the situation from deteriorating further. Why is equivalent action not being taken in relation to the PHSO?
Your priorities as Secretary of State for Health, of compassionate care and transparency, mirror those of the Patients Association and I appreciate how seriously you view these aspects of your role. For the sake of the patients and their families who continue to be so badly let down by a service which is just not fit for purpose, I urge you as the Secretary of State, to take action to arrest the torrent of poor practice by the PHSO. I believe that as a matter of urgency, interim measures should be put in place to ensure effective management of all cases referred to the PHSO.
We are compiling a summary of all of the complaints we are receiving and I will be happy to provide you with a copy of this information if you would find that helpful.
I must add, that we are also hearing of many examples of excellent care provided by staff across the NHS and we will be reporting on these in our relevant publications. For now though, these patients and their families are our priority.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Chief Executive, the Patients Association