Gove kicks reform of the Parliamentary Ombudsman service into the long grass

Official portrait of Chloe Smith MP and Cabinet Office minister for the constitution and devolution

Government dumps on Parliamentary Ombudsman as waiting list of cases forecast to rise to 4000

The government has thrown out any proposals to reform the overburdened Parliamentary Ombudsman service until after the next General Election in 2024.

A reply from Chloe Smith, junior Cabinet Office minister, to MPs on the Commons Public Administration Committee on their report into the Parliamentary Ombudsman reveals that reforms far from being delayed a year will not take place until 2025.

She writes:” The Government appreciates the desire of PACAC to modernise Ombudsman standards and agrees that this is an important matter. As outlined by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster[ Michael Gove] in September 2020, the current pressures on the Government and the parliamentary timetable mean the 2016 Bill has not progressed and there are no plans to reform the Ombudsman system up to and including 2023–24. We will nonetheless carefully consider the committee’s findings and any future opportunities.”

The decision to delay any improvements to the service come at a time when there are 2663 cases waiting to be allocated and long delays for people awaiting to hear the result of their cases.

At the same time minutes of a board meeting at the Ombudsman’s office on February 18 and only just published reveals that the waiting list for cases to be allocated is forecast to rise to 4000. This is entirely due to complaInts arising from relatives of Covid 19 victims.

The report said: “It was proposed that, to allow the organisation to focus on complaints raising more serious issues, it would not routinely progress health complaints where the impact of the claimed injustice is relatively limited. This would apply to complaints determined to be at level 1 and level 2 of our Severity of Injustice scale. This is in line with other Ombudsman organisations.”

Relatives of Covid 19 victims not likely to get their complaint investigated

This is bad news for relatives of Covid 19 victims who are already been denied justice by Boris Johnson choosing to delay a Covid-19 public inquiry. It also raises the question how the Ombudsman would know a complaint was a serious problem until he had investigated it.

Sir Rob Behrens Parliamentary Ombudsman

Sir Robert Behrens, Parliamentary Ombudsman, in his reply to the committee suggests he might try and persuade Matt Hancock, the health secretary, to allow some changes to the Ombudsman’s powers in forthcoming legislation to reform the NHS.

He writes: “The forthcoming NHS legislation could also grant PHSO ‘own initiative’ powers to look at an NHS-related issue where someone would struggle to bring a complaint or where there is a fear that complaining to the Ombudsman might bring about personal repercussions in terms of the NHS care received. For example, if someone is a long-term inpatient with learning disabilities, they or their family may be reluctant to complain formally for fear that it would adversely affect that person’s care.
“PHSO would welcome the Committee’s support for including these measures in the legislation that will follow the NHS Integration and Innovation White Paper. We would also welcome similar support for removing the out-dated MP filter and making other improvements in our Parliamentary jurisdiction when appropriate legislative opportunities arise.”

So the Ombudsman is left clutching at straws to get any reform at all. The public are left with a lousy service and the prospect of complaints being dumped because the Ombudsman will not have the resources to cope.

My thanks to a couple of readers for alerting me to the board meeting and the government’s reply. It is nice to know people are keeping an eye on this

9 thoughts on “Gove kicks reform of the Parliamentary Ombudsman service into the long grass

  1. Pingback: Gove kicks reform of the Parliamentary Ombudsman service into the long grass | sdbast

  2. Another great article David. We at PHSOtheFACTS have been keeping an eye on the Ombudsman since 2013 and to decide on the severity of a complaint before considering all the evidence would be pre-determination. PHSO lost a judicial review on this point (and others) in 2018. https://www.bevanbrittan.com/insights/articles/2018/court-of-appeal-overturns-health-ombudsmans-decision-on-gp-medical-care/

    In truth, even before the pandemic there was only ever a very low chance that your complaint would be investigated by the Ombudsman. Just 3.6% of all the complaints were investigated in 2019/20 (1,122) and just 2.1% upheld to some degree (650).

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  3. Link to ‘severity of injustice scale’:

    https://www.ombudsman.org.uk/organisations-we-investigate/putting-things-right/financial-remedy

    By excluding levels 1 and 2, the Ombudsman is jiggling the stats in a massive way.

    Level 2 includes this:

    ‘This will often result in a degree of distress, inconvenience or minor pain. This could also include instances where an injustice was more serious but only took place once, or was of short duration. 
    In these cases we consider that an apology is not suitable by itself.’

    The first task of a caseworker, it seems, is to determine whether a person’s pain was ‘minor’. You are right to observe:

    ‘It also raises the question how the Ombudsman would know a complaint was a serious problem until he had investigated it.’

    How can this change in procedure be interpreted as anything other than a failure of the Ombudsman to provide a decent service? The significance of the Ombudsman’s new approach cannot be underestimated, despite the lack of discussion contained in the board minutes. A caseworker is in no position to assess a complainant’s pain.

    What would be interesting to know is the outcome of Ombudsman investigations for an earlier period (levels 1-6), and the proportion of them that were levels 1 and 2.

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  4. Predetermination of an investigation as to it’s level of injustice is simply unacceptable. Why doesn’t Mr. Gove go the last mile and scrap the service completely. It does seem it is actually what he wants to do.
    In the 1960’s a Conservative MP said the process was a swiz from the start and the party wouldn’t vote for it. The Conservatives proposed legislation for reform through a bill introduced by Chris Skidmore, but it ran out of Parliamentary time. Now we have the clairvoyant Mr.Gove who can see what is likely to be in the Queens speech every parliamentary session until 2023-24.
    In the meantime no remedy for injustice suffered by ordinary people via this broken service.
    Keep at them David. Opposition MP’s are now starting to ask questions

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  5. Pingback: When will the performance of PHSO be externally examined as part of a healthcare failure enquiry? – phsothetruestory

  6. Pingback: “Who do you think you are kidding Mister Behrens” – phsothetruestory

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