HSJ calls for resignation of PHSO leadership

The PHSO leadership must stand down

7 MARCH, 2016

Alastair McLellan

The performance of the PHSO has now passed the bounds of acceptability – its leadership must go, says Alastair McLellan.

Criticising the performance of national regulators and watchdogs can be a lazy sport – and is often the preserve of those looking for some easily won plaudits. The great majority of the people who work for these organisations are dedicated to doing a good job in difficult circumstances and HSJ  generally avoids joining in the shooting match for that reason.

But the performance of the leadership of the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman has now passed the bounds of acceptability and is damaging the reputation of the NHS and Parliament. It is also, most importantly, undermining the confidence of those who look to it for help.

The performance of the leadership of the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman has now passed the bounds of acceptability

Let us consider the charge sheet.

In June 2014 Jeremy Hunt took the unprecedented step of writing to the PHSO strongly criticising its handling of the case of three year old Sam Morrish.

Three months later a National Audit Office investigation reported a catalogue of governance and process failings by the PHSO, including in the way it had awarded contracts to former colleagues and business partners of ombudsman Dame Julie Mellor.

Shortly after that, the Patients Association said it would no longer refer people to the PHSO because it had no confidence in it as an organisation.

In January 2015 the Commons health committee concluded that, despite attempts at improving its record, “significant concerns remain about the Ombudsman’s own performance in assisting complainants to achieve redress”.

In March last year the inadequate performance of the PHSO in investigating failings at Morecambe Bay was highlighted by the Kirkup review.

The PHSO initially denied Bill Kirkup had revealed any shortcomings, only to revise its statement following the direct intervention of the inquiry chair.

In August the PHSO refused to investigate the death of baby Elizabeth Dixon after a nine month “nightmare” for her parents – forcing Mr Hunt to intervene after the issue was brought to his attention by HSJ.

Low confidence

Among its own staff, too, the PHSO leadership has little support. An internal staff survey conducted last year revealed only 11 per cent of PHSO staff said they had confidence in their leadership.

The PHSO is now investigating and upholding more complaints and Dame Julie has acknowledged the need for change, but it is a case of too little too late.

And now comes news of the involvement of deputy ombudsman Mick Martin in the cover-up of the sexual harassment of a NHS human resources director, and the fact that Dame Julie was told about this seven months before HSJ made it public.

Attempts to seek a comment from the PHSO on the second revelation were met with blocking tactics typical of an organisation in denial.

Morecambe Bay whistleblower James Titcombe said in response to the latest revelations: “There is now a need for an urgent independent investigation into the serious failures in governance and leadership at PHSO. Whilst this situation remains unaddressed, how can anyone have any trust or confidence in the NHS complaints system or believe that any talk of culture change is meaningful?”

The PHSO remains the final arbiter – other than launching a judicial review – for patients who are desperate for answers and have often already experienced a bruising battle to get answers from local NHS organisations. Its reputation matters to all who want to see the NHS rid itself of the taint of cover-up and obfuscation.

The situation is complicated by the confused accountability of the PHSO office – particularly the question of what the formal oversight of the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee means in practice.

That need not stand in the way of what must happen next, however. HSJ calls on Dame Julie and Mr Martin to recognise that their continued employment by the PHSO is unhealthy for the organisation and those it serves. They should do the honourable thing and stand down.



  1. phsothefacts.com

    Not to mention the fact that in an unprecedented move the PHSO Pressure Group have submitted 24 cases of Misconduct In Public Office to the Met Police which specifically name Dame Julie Mellor seven times and Deputy Ombudsman Mick Martin three times. There is no public confidence in this body and the leadership must go.

  2. David Brooke

    I would also argue that they and whomever else, should reimburse the taxpayer their wages/benefits for unacceptable delays/ performance, and really should face prosecution for malfeasance.

  3. Rob Crampton

    It’s not only medical matters that the PHSO under its current leadership deliberately avoids investigating properly. The effect is whitewash and cover-up of wrongdoing across public bodies in general. The Met. Police must intervene and announce a full police investigation into the senior management of the PHSO.

  4. Another Victim

    After closing my case as not proved, it was then established it was never even investigated at all, I demand the investigator reimburse the taxpayer their wages/benefits for unacceptable delays/ performance, and really should face prosecution for malfeasance. The PHSO replied, it had no means to record, time or costing of any case, & they would not persue anyone for their failings, My new case just ended the same, nothing proper was ever asked, & the NHS rules, & legal questions are simply ignored, The PHSO needs to be instantly closed & those in charge held to account. It is now no more than a multi million pound, self gratification PR machine, & of no benefit to the public. There is utterly no public confidence in this body and the leadership must all go..

  5. lindsaycjackson

    I consider the above issue of PHSO accountability to Parliament to be even more important than the poor performance of the PHSO leadership. Without proper accountability, you cannot expect effective leadership.

  6. I. Question

    Having had no resolution from the PHSO many years after the negligence leading to my son’s death, I can fully support this move. The PHSO is a disgrace that it should continue to abuse victims of the system, against UK and EU law. Most complainants need understanding and fair treatment so thay can know the original abuse was tackled at staff level, lessons were learnt and procedures improved and enforced under penalty. The ‘lay’ PHSO is largely incapable of understanding health complaints put before them, adding distinct bias in favour of NHS maladministration and deception. Day after day the PHSO presumes to raise the hopes of complainants yet dashes those hopes through its own internal maladministration.

    • Peggy Banks

      Yes, it is about time we had a leader for dealing with legimate complaints instead of the current PHSO regeime of adding to the distress already suffered’

  7. Peggy Banks

    It is about time we had a leader and a service that actually deals with complaints, instead of the current regeime where the prime objective is to add to the distress already suffered.

  8. james kennedy

    Resignation would be the only decent thing to do. Caused me and many others a lot of emotional pain as well as covering up their tracks wasting tons of public money. The hospital department I complained about continues to run their dysfunctional department and I have no closure or way of moving forward in my life.

  9. Teresa Steele

    The PHSO were to be my saviours, they were going to sort out the very inadequate and incorrect local investigations (two in total), and ensure that there would be justice. Instead they added markedly to our distress at an already difficult time. It has taken over four years for these investigations to conclude, in the most inaccurate of ways, that the Trusts involved behaved correctly. If they were so correct why did it take over four years to reach this conclusion? I’ll answer that…..corrupt procedures both at local level and with the PHSO investigations.

  10. jacqui Butterworth

    I wasted 2yrs letter writing etc-he PHSO were of no use-just another way of putting people off re getting justice-

  11. barbill

    “The pen is mightier than the sword”: Quite true when all the pen pusher has to do is lie. If the pen could conquer when it comes to justice there would never be occasion for war.

  12. Shocked

    This institution is well past its usefulness date. It can no longer hide from its failures to deliver fair and just responses to complainants, nor can it ever claim to show benefit from the learning otherwise lost in rufuting people’s experience.
    FOI requests show a distinct and serious divide between ‘recorded procedures’ as made available for self-promotion, and what actually happens when you make a complaint with the expectation of fair procedures and principles being adhered-to; and then outcomes for acceptance, admission, recompense and learning for improvement.

  13. Shocked

    I waited many years for a ‘new look’ at my complaint of a death by NHS negligence, and the ombudsman said I had unreasonable expectations of practitioners observing best practice (for instance as per NICE guidelines or by heeding provided expert advice); while the same devisive practitioners felt able to defend their stance of carelessly antagonising illness, denying contact, and witholding information, all against standard practice.

  14. Pingback: The Democracy Game | phsothetruestory

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