MPs urge health service ombudsman to speed up investigations

Long-drawn-out ombudsman inquiries add to families’ trauma, MPs say

Long-drawn-out ombudsman inquiries add to families’ trauma, MPs say

Averil Hart. Picture: PA

The Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee has expressed concern over the length of time the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman takes to investigate complaints.

MPs said they had heard from families who were left distressed and traumatised by making a complaint to the NHS and the ombudsman.

According to a report by the committee, the ombudsman took an average of 234 days to complete full investigations in 2016/17. While this is a reduction from 255 days the previous year, the MPs said the length of time taken to decide whether to investigate complaints, and then to carry out investigations was excessive.

Time lag contributes to distress

The report cited the investigation into the December 2012 death of Averil Hart.

A report into Ms Hart's death concluded the 19-year-old died following a series of failures involving every NHS organisation that had cared for her. The ombudsman said Ms Hart's death was an avoidable tragedy that would have been prevented, had the NHS provided appropriate care and treatment.

But the ombudsman’s final report into Ms Hart's death was issued on 8 December 2017, three-and-a-half years after the original complaint was made.

The MPs’ report states: 'We remain concerned at the length of time investigations take to complete, not least because of the added distress this can cause to complainants.

'We are also clear that increasing the speed of investigations should not come at the cost of compromising their quality, and we therefore accept that delivering significant improvements may take some time.'

Slow progress 

The MPs recommended the ombudsman publish a target for average duration of investigations and a deadline for achieving it.

The committee report also criticises slow progress on government reforms of the complaints system including ensuring a rapid and effective remedy for anyone with a justified complaint.

Committee chair, Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin said: 'Too many people still have to complain to the ombudsman because public services don't deal with their complaint properly in the first place.

'The ombudsman and his staff do a difficult job. The government can help them by introducing the reforms it has already promised.'

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