The Health Ombudsman is wholly ineffective and should be replaced, claims a report.
The report, by the Patients Association, shows how some families – having turned to the ombudsman in desperation – experience inadequate, untimely, secretive and unacceptably flawed investigation processes.
It highlights detailed cases where patients and their families have been badly failed by the ombudsman and all speak of how their interactions have compounded the grief they were already feeling through loss of loved ones due to questionable care.
For example, Sam Morrish, a three year old boy from Devon, died after a string of NHS blunders. Sam died in 2010, but it was only in summer 2014 that the ombudsman pronounced on the case. Sam’s parents are heavily critical of the investigation process.
In another case, a woman died after keyhole surgery for a hernia repair; the family described the two year investigatory process with the ombudsman as “gruelling and destructive”.
Some patients believe that the ombudsman is inappropriately preventing them raising concerns regarding inaccuracies and other errors in draft reports. This is highlighted in the case of a child whose mother has devoted nearly 3 years challenging the ombudsman on decisions made which were error based. The mother was specifically prohibited from sharing the contents of a draft letter.
Katherine Murphy, CEO of the Patients Association, said: “We wish we could say cases like that of Sam Morrish and those other families are a once in lifetime situation, but they are not. We receive cases every week where people are distressed and even traumatised by the way their case has been mishandled by the ombudsman.
“The Health Ombudsman should be a court of last resort where uncorrected mistakes by the NHS can finally be put right, but the process is not fit for purpose and often ends up compounding the grief of families. The quality, accuracy, objectivity, effectives, openness and honesty of its reports is shameful.”
The association said trusts cannot be expected to handle complaints appropriately if they are confident that the ombudsman will not find failings against them. It calls for radical reform in complaints handling so that the public can have confidence that complaints will be fully and professionally investigated.