The problem has been attributed to disruption caused by the Covid pandemic, according to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC)
MPs are concerned about a ‘significant backlog’ at the independent body acting as a ‘last resort’ for complaints from individuals about the NHS and government services, a new report warns.
The problem has been attributed to disruption caused by the Covid pandemic, according to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC).
The findings were published in a report on the performance of the Parliament and Health Services Ombudsman (PHSO) 2020-2021.
As of March 2021, the PHSO was facing an unallocated backlog of more than 3,000 cases, the committee found.
He quoted the ombudsman’s annual report as saying the impact of the pandemic on the NHS and its own staff “resulted in a backlog of cases waiting to be reviewed at the end of the year”.
To address the problem, the PHSO aims to improve efficiency and request additional resources to increase the number of social workers, according to the report.
Following a successful spending review bid, this additional funding is expected to be available from 2022-23, he added.
The PHSO has also made the decision to stop processing lower level health complaints.
But MPs on the committee said they “remain concerned” about the impact of the delays on those who use the ombudsman’s services.
In 2020-21, the PHSO’s responsiveness to complainants after “further review” declined from its 2019-20 performance and fell short of its targets, the report said.
However, cases decided following “initial checks” have had much stronger results.
Evidence provided by the PHSO attributed this trend to a variety of factors, the committee said, including the NHS and government departments struggling to contribute to investigations due to the pandemic and complications arising from working from home.
PACAC reiterated its calls for the government to introduce legislation to reform the ombudsman, arguing that the inaction since the release of the Civil Service Ombudsman Bill six years ago is “as unacceptable than untenable in the long term”.
William Wragg, Conservative MP for Hazel Grove and Chair of PACAC, said: “The pandemic has brought significant challenges to the work of the PHSO, with wait times for decisions increasing dramatically.
“We will be looking for signs that the Ombudsman’s efforts to address the backlog are resulting in an improved experience for complainants.
“In the long term, the government must take the issue of ombudsman reform seriously and legislate to bring it in line with international best practice, providing better access to justice for complainants.
“We would like to thank everyone who shared their experiences with us for this survey and look forward to continuing to work positively and constructively with the PHSO to improve the vital public service it provides.”
The PHSO said, like many organisations, it had not been “immune to the impact of the pandemic”.
A spokesperson said: “The committee recognized that pressure on the NHS also has consequences for the time we take to deal with complaints.
NHS patients have faced greater IVF delays during Covid than those paying privately
“Our development and introduction of the NHS Complaints Standards over the past year aims to help organizations provide faster, simpler and more streamlined complaints handling services.
“Along with the improvements we continue to make to our service, this will help us reduce the backlog resulting from the pandemic and improve the time a complainant waits for a decision.
“We are committed to addressing these issues as we continue our journey to becoming a leading mediation service, despite the fact that demand for our service is now significantly above pre-pandemic levels.”
They added, “We welcome the committee’s call for legislative reform of the PHSO.
“We believe this is key to delivering improved public services and will bring us into line with international best practice.”