Admit only what is harmless – complaint handling mantra.

On radio 4 this week it was revealed that Kim Philby, notorious traitor,  advised Soviet spies;

If confronted, never, ever confess.  “So my advice to you is to tell all your agents that they are never to confess.  If they are confronted with a photograph of themselves with a Soviet contact or a German contact – it’s a fake.  If they confront you with a report in your own handwriting – it’s a forgery.  Just deny everything.  Only admit what is harmless.  Admit anything you safely can, but deny that essential link with any foreign intelligence service, and you’re alright.”  The Philby Tape Radio 4

I guess that’s what you learn with an Oxbridge education.  In humble comprehensive schools, children are taught to always tell the truth, to treat others as you wish to be treated and to trust in authority.  Consequently, when people complain to those in authority they expected them to deal with the evidence of wrongdoing with robust integrity.  More fool them.

When public bodies mess up, the backlash should be felt in parliament where the poor decisions, lack of funding or ambiguous regulations were decided in the first place.  Rather than take the flak directly, parliament elects ‘arms length bodies’ to act independently as ‘regulators’ and ‘watchdogs’.  Bodies such as the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman who are supposedly independent of politicians despite the fact that politicians appoint them (under the guise of the Crown).

Philby was asked by the Soviet spies how he managed to get away with his treachery for so long.  His answer is quite revealing.

“There were many people in SIS who were involved in my recruitment into SIS and my promotion in SIS. Who had worked with me in SIS and given me a lot of information in SIS.  Those people would be very, very anxious personally to see me made innocent, including the Chief of the whole organisation who made me Head of his counter-espionage department.”  The Philby Tape Radio 4

So politicians appoint a ‘safe pair of hands’, one of their own who knows that the primary objective is ‘never confess’ and at all costs they must protect those above.  In return, they are given the protection of the state and if the seat becomes a little too hot then the revolving door of appointments allows the pressure to be released and normal service to be resumed.

On 29th March,  the Ombudsman, Dame Julie Mellor,  released a blog post reassuring all comers that they could be ‘confident in our service’  spinning a tale of ‘external reviewers’ she gives the impression that all decisions are thoroughly checked by individuals independent of the service for their accuracy and sound decision making.

We have external reviewers to assess whether our decisions are sound and are the only ombudsman service to use this external mechanism.

Turns out that in 2014/15 there were only 4 external reviewers who handled just 13% of complaints about decisions and all complaints about PHSO staff were handled internally.  FOI – internal_and_external_case_reviewers  Smoke and mirrors.

There is also news here of the new Service Charter, a set of promises to reassure the public that cases are handled with robust consistency.

…the Charter is built on the principles of fair and transparent decision-making and the need to treat customers with courtesy and respect.

The only problem here is that there is no mechanism within the Charter to hold the Ombudsman to account if the delivery falls somewhat short of the promise, which it will under the present regime.

This FOI request confirms that in the business year 2015/16 PHSO  received 1,969 requests for a review from dissatisfied complainants.  That’s 38 requests a week and this figure excludes complaints made about PHSO service delivery.  FOI – number_of_current_cases review  Given that in 2014/15 PHSO reported on 4,159 cases – 1,969 review requests would give a dissatisfaction rate of 47%.  So what happened to all that external quality assurance? In any event all external reviewers have since be phased out of use by PHSO.

Dame Julie’s glowing summary of robust case handling was released just a few days after the staff at PHSO took a vote of no confidence in senior management Times article – vote of no confidence and two days before the Deputy Ombudsman, Mick Martin resigned due to being found complicit in a cover-up.  Independent article – Mick Martin resigns.

Deny everything – never confess.

The truth is that only those who have no knowledge of the Ombudsman would have cause to be ‘confident’ in their service.  NHS staff, the Patients Association, complainants, the Health Select Committee and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs committee have all expressed the most severe doubts.   The Ombudsman herself should have resigned some time ago, but those who have to oust her are the very same as those who selected her.  They suffer the same dilemma as Philby’s boss.  Better to hang on and save face than do the right thing by the public. She was eventually relieved of her post in the backwash of the Mick Martin affair.

So it is with great concern to see that the Chief Investigator role for the new ‘independent’ Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch  (HSIB) is to be appointed according to the approval of the Secretary of State for Health.

a Chief Investigator, to be appointed by the Authority subject to the approval of the Secretary of State and who may only be dismissed with the approval of the Secretary of State;  HSIB_directions

Could this be another ‘safe pair of hands’ who will no doubt be schooled in the ‘never confess’ philosophy and so the game goes on ….







  1. EJ

    Another well-researched post that is as always, spot on Della.

    “Oral evidence: Annual scrutiny of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, HC 696
    Tuesday 12 January 2016

    Dame Julie Mellor: To give you a concrete example, I was talking to a colleague yesterday who was saying that, wherever there is inconsistency in the evidence that is not congruent between what the complainant says and what the body says, we will look to triage that evidence. Recently, our director of investigations had a case where they felt the evidence was not congruent, so they went and looked in the cupboards of the trust, and their hunch was right and they found records that had not been supplied. We will always look to triage where there is that discrepancy between the parties. That could be interviewing; it could be going and visiting; it could be saying, “We know there are more records. We need those records”; or it could be threatening to use our powers to gather evidence.”

    This is categorically untrue. My Trust denied key points (lied) to PHSO and on multiple occasions I have provided proof of this to PHSO. So not only did PHSO not go rummaging in cupboards to investigate said incongruities, but when I provided the evidence to them they refused to do anything about it either!

    You might want to watch videos by David Icke (here he talks about schools being programming prisons for children, people mock him but he speaks a lot of sense and reads between the lines of what is going on. The public is being grossly manipulated as unquestioning, compliant servants to authority. There are others saying the same as him. It’s all a deliberate agenda. That’s why it was set up this way. It’s to give an appearance of justice and recourse, but there really is none. However, the people have power and the people can change this.

    The latest FOI responses from PHSO are letting the cat out of the bag, they are not set up to investigate negligence (“PHSO does not make findings related to negligence – rather, PHSO looks to see whether someone has ‘sustained injustice in consequence of maladministration’ as defined in the legislation referred to above.” [* The Health Service Commissioners Act 1993; * The Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967]) – how the bloody hell not when they are investigating NHS complaints! So basically all they are doing is investigating processes, procedures, admin! This statement also doesn’t tie in with the findings they publish regarding medical cases on their website either! Here is an example:,-ombudsman-finds

    “Our investigation found that staff had made errors in adequately assessing the woman’s condition, treat her with appropriate antibiotics in enough time, or to take enough steps to control the clotting of her blood before surgery. Nor should it have discharged the woman after her admissions. The Trust’s complaint handling was also poor.”


    “The investigation found that although he was managed appropriately once he was in the care of the medical team, the care he received during the initial period did not meet the expected standard.

    His condition was not recognised for more than two hours until he was seen by a doctor, who suspected he might have sepsis while antibiotics were not started until four hours after admission.”

    These comments represent clear findings of medical negligence. Not following procedure adequately in a medical environment is not a mere administrative failure (even where record-keeping is below standard) it is medical negligence.

    Your figures on external reviewers are sobering. Shocking that you had to do an FOI request to find this out, yet PHSO claims they have a new transparency, what a joke. Like everything else they veil it below contorted or obfuscating explanations.

    In my latest FOI they have still not answered regarding the breakdown of partial and full upholds and on what basis (i.e. administrative or whatever), they referred me to the source of key words they use!

    They admit their caseworkers are allowed to use personal discretion on important decisions. This is extremely wide open to abuse and as we know, it is being widely abused. How can laypersons without any medical or other experience regarding the matters they investigate, be given carte blanche to write things they don’t understand off at a whim.

    They also deliberately focus on irrelevant things to try to absolve themselves of having made wrong decisions when confronted with proof. They never accept what a complainant says, always side with the organisation and wilfully fail to uncover things complainants go on to uncover.

    The blinders are off, the public will no longer be fooled. We WILL achieve change!

    • Shocked

      Just my experience with PHSO. Dont lift any covers; dont ask questions – you’ll just reveal a minefield of injustice. How many times have you seen “His/her condition was not recognised for more than.. [hours | days | months | years], until…. “. It was too late? We bypassed the ‘specialist’? OR: “he/she took matters into their own hands?

      Would the PHSO be smart enough to question the nonsense given?

  2. Pingback: Hillsborough truth – what next? | phsothetruestory

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