Mr Behrens makes promises of change for the future – but what about the past?

A refreshing statement here from Mr Behrens, new Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, courtesy of Shaun Lintern HSJ. There is an acceptance that standards have not been adequate and substantial reform is required to provide an ‘exemplar’ Ombudsman service. So far so good. But missing from this account is how Mr Behrens plans to address the damage done by years of poor performance and rectify matters for those with badly handled but now ‘historic’ cases.  Listening and learning is a start but it’s not enough. Action Mr Behrens, action is required to put right the damage caused by the now accepted poor investigation processes. We watch and we wait.

Regulator chief promises new

‘rigour and consistency’

By Shaun Lintern

22 August 2017

The new head of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has admitted the regulator still struggles to relate to complaining patients and families, but has pledged to bring “rigour and consistency” to its work.

Rob Behrens took over the ombudsman role in April after Dame Julie Mellor and her deputy Mick Martin were forced to resign. Their departures followed revelations by HSJ that Mr Martin had helped to cover up the sexual harassment of an NHS director and Dame Julie took no action when she was warned about his behaviour.

Whistleblowers at the PHSO had also raised concerns over the management style and “toxic” culture at the ombudsman, which is the final arbiter of complaints against NHS organisations.

Mr Behrens told HSJ the regulator’s recent history had damaged staff morale and led to a loss of confidence and defensiveness, which he was determined to tackle.

He promised to invest in staff training to “professionalise” the handling of complaints and in recent months had personally overseen complex and lengthy complaints, which he accepted took too long to close.

Mr Behrens said: “We still take too long to close cases… and critically, we have not yet found a way of relating to complainants so that we understand their cases and that relationship is key to a good outcome for the process whether or not we find for them.

“The experience of the PHSO is variable; there have been bad experiences but there have also been some excellent experiences and we have to bring a rigour and consistency to what we do to make sure where we act well that is replicated, and where we don’t act so well we address that very quickly, as we ask other bodies to do.”

Mr Behrens, who previously led the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for higher education complaints and was complaints commissioner at the Bar Standards Board, said he was confident the PHSO could be turned around.

He said: “Change had not been handled well in the organisation and this has had an impact on staff morale and one of my earliest challenges has been to talk to everyone in the organisation, to listen to their experience and to take a view about what the way forward is, given the history of the organisation. Some of that history has created a loss of confidence and a defensiveness, which we are addressing and need to turn around.

“I know from the staff surveys what the staff have thought about the leadership of the organisation. [Chief executive] Amanda Campbell and I constitute a new leadership team but this is not something that can be done by two people at the top of an organisation; it has got to be worked through, although the leaders have to set the tone for it. On the basis of what I have seen the executive team has got integrity, skill and a determination to transform this organisation. As long as they show that – and the people who work for them show that – we can move forward.

“I am confident, together with colleagues, we have what it takes to move forward and address the need for this organisation to be an exemplar of ombudsman services not only in the UK but around the world.”

Mr Behrens said in November that the PHSO would hold the first of two annual public meetings bringing together complainants, stakeholders and staff “to discuss the progress of PHSO in a public way. We have never done that before.”

There will also be £300,000 invested in training PHSO staff to help improve complaints handling, despite the ombudsman facing £24m in budget cuts over the next four years.

He said: “We have to professionalise what we do in terms of our investigative process. Amanda and I are jointly united in agreeing that there will be investment at the front end of our organisation, a big training and development programme for all staff, particularly case handlers, to reassure ourselves that we have in place a skilled team to deal with complaints.

“If we don’t do that properly, how can we have moral authority with the bodies in our jurisdiction when we are encouraging them to improve their complaint handling process?”

He added: “This is a great national institution that needs investment and needs to return to the DNA of its ombudsman roots. This is not a fairy tale; this is a big job but the transformation has begun.”




  1. EJ

    Absolutely agree, I won’t hold my breath as regards future changes because we’ve had the platitudes before. But they can’t simply say “well we’ve learned the lessons and things will be different from now on” without addressing the shocking injustices that have occurred to date. There are “historic” cases where things can still (and need to be) be rectified and to leave this undone is unacceptable.

  2. Keyna Doran

    Due to the appalling experiences we have had with the PHSO it is very hard to be optimistic, but I really want to be.

    So many of us have experienced the same, or similar, failings in our complaint investigations it is impossible for the PHSO to carry on pretending there isn’t a problem and I am glad to see Rob Behrens openly admitting that there have been failings in the past.

    It is also imperative that he/they recognise these failings protect failing NHS Trusts and lead to further harm and unnecessary deaths, as well as wasting vast sums of money that could be redirected into good quality care.

  3. rosemarycantwell

    25 August 2017
    Dear Della,
    Firstly might I say that you are doing a true public service by leading the initiative for “grassroots” changes in the Public Health Service Ombudsman and you have dedicated much of the last few years to champion the rights of people who have felt marginalised by their experiences.
    Secondly I wish to express my concerns that the General Election in 2017 has delayed much-needed reform of the system which even the Authorities admit is in urgent need of change.
    Thirdly I agree with you in that unless we can shape the Ombudsman service into something that enables everyone to have fairness at the hands of the state authorities irrespective of who they are or where they live or what their status is, then any Ombudsman service is only going to “scratch the surface” of what is needed in the UK as a whole. “Grassroots” at the local level would be a much easier way to get necessary change where a PHSO member could lead a group of voluntary auditors who could assess concerns in an anonymised form without knowing the personal information of the person raising concern and also anonymise the service itself. That way people could make real contributions to the system. We are living in a totally different era from that when the PHSO was set up. We must recognise this and use technology to the best we can. It may provide a much more straightforward way of conducting investigations.
    With all good wishes and much gratitude to you personally,

  4. John O'Brien

    As a patient who suffered at the hands of the PHSO, from mid 2015 to end 2016, and its staff gross negligence, the idea that the Ombudsman Service is a “great national institution” is even more insulting, to the thousands who have suffered degradation over many years at their hands

  5. Christine Mullen

    I thank you Mr Shaun Listern for your constant support and strength given to our fight for justice.My case is historic Iam the only case from Scotland that never gave up or gave in despite the bullying tactics. My case is now with Mr Beherns and I Await the date of the meeting soon in London.This is a giant step forward for our group Della has all my details if you are interested as mine must be the longest fight for justice in history.

    • John O'Brien

      Christine . keep up the good work and keep us posted of your meeting in London goes. . I am currently taking advice on how to prosecute the member of staff who handles my case in the Manchester office of the PHSO. los proceedings against the PHSO Director who covered up for him . We are both Celtic so never give up when we are aggrieved

      • Christine Mullen

        Hi JOHN I will keep you posted it is good to be part of the group united we stand divided we fall.Della does a wonderful job and has been a good friend, As you say we will never give up .

  6. brenda

    I sent a letter to Mr Beherns marked ‘private and confidential’ I didn’t get an answer. I sent it again to his email and still no answer. He will have a job to earn my respect, but then I ask myself, will he care if he does not….And, am I wrong, I didn’t think PHSO is a regulator?

    • John O'Brien

      I have even sent recorded delivery letters “signed for” to doctors, consultants, and guys like this over the years and still waiting for replies. Am now preparing complaints to General Medical Council as PHSO is useless.. The biggest problem is that none of them care about “consumers “

  7. Laura Thomas

    Most of UK now controlled by Common Purpose. No one seems to realise that the organisation they are complaining about is controlled by CP. Cressida Dick and many other high ranking officers are VP trained and controlling Police. Sir Jeremy Heywood, Head of Civil Service, Harriet Harman, Sir Sir David Bell, Shami Chakrabati, Robert Peston etc. Education, legal profession, media, Govt, Parliament, Social Services, LGOs and all Local councils are infiltrated by CP trained ‘graduates’ and NHS is riddled with it. Suggest read Wikileaks Common Purpose then Unmasking CP then watch videos by Brian Gerrish at Common Purpose Exposed. Join UKColumn which exists to fight the secretive and insidious pseudo charity running leadership courses called COMMON PURPOSE. This is not a joke. Research before it is too late. Laura Thomas

  8. dms91

    There are no words other them shameful. appalling and if that the way the public see you then you MUST fix this, there are no words to describe the total lack of humanity. Mr Behrens you have the power to make a difference, please use it.

    • John O'Brien

      Laura your comments are probably not unreasonable but up until the 1990s these accusations where laid at the door of Freemasonry, in particular in the police service nationwide There is always some “group” which gets the blame for what is just basic human nature. . Make a serious mistake then get your friends and colleagues to cover up for you. The PHSO is just a cumbersome bureaucracy which employs people of the same ilk. who are basically incompetent and negligent . With the organ grinder at the top not really knowing or caring about what is happening lower down.

  9. Julian Stelll

    Dear Mr Behrens

    £300,000 for training? That’s more likely inadequate to transform the PHSO from doing “what good complaint handling looks like”!
    Dump this failed strategy. Learn to ‘do right things right’. Recognise, if you fail to do ‘right things right’ you do something else!

    Recognise, when you do things you either do:

    a) Right things Right
    b) Right things Wrong
    c) Wrong things Right
    d) Wrong things Wrong

    Review PHSO failings in our case. Learn what doing right things right looks like. Uphold complaints in recognition of the perverse evidence based decisions and complaints the PHSO neglected to adjudicate.

    Review Appendix 14 to the Trust’s Maintaining Higher Professional Standards Investigation Report and adjudicate; should the patient’s arm have been marked for elected surgery on the admission ward prior to their transfer to the anaesthetic room?

    Do Right things Right not simply for us. Do Right things Right in recognition you do Right things Right in the wider public interest!

    Do Right things Right in our case to dissuade the NHS Trust from arguing again [in recognition their Surgeon changed elected surgery in their anaesthetic room]:

    “I understand why you might feel troubled by this apparent change in direction just before the operation, but the previous recommendation was just that, a recommendation, not cast in stone and open to review if the circumstances at the time of surgery so dictated”.

    Recognise they failed to provide the evidence base for this decision!

    Do Right things Right now. Adjudicate on patients’ rights to protection from surgeons in the anaesthetic room; investigation; information; equality and a fair hearing!

    Do Right things Right! Win back public confidence in the PHSO now by Reviewing the historical and on-going case load you have inherited in the wider public interest.

    Do Right things Right. Recognise I am a disaffected complainant and that I have an evidence base both you and Paul Flynn labour MP for Newport West has has failed to consider and have not adjudicated.

    Earn our trust, regain public confidence in the PHSO, provide us with what you call “structural impartiality” and adjudication.

  10. John O'Brien

    Julian. Any Investigation system should also look at attempts by NHS staff executives who cover up for the negligence , and in my case, malice against me by a consultant . The PHSO have copies of internal e mails on file and chose to ignore them.

  11. Pingback: PHSO offers to train NHS staff to improve complaint handling. | phsothetruestory
  12. steven fletcher

    How can you professionalise the ubiquity of refusals to investigate cases? Firstly they refuse to investigate, then refuse to review. Once you get through this and make them realise they just cover up things administratively – they then go about making excuses, ignoring facts, dismissing violations of guidelines and then NHS so called experts try cover up the issues so badly even they make mistakes and contradict themselves. THEN comes the deny any medical mistakes completely and if it is not possible due to the ubiquity of clarifying evidences then consider them slip ups and NOT injustices – LOL and then they want to train NHS Staff – WOW – SEE NO EVIDENCE, HEAR NO EVIDENCE, ADMIT TO NO EVIDENCE comes to mind. LETS identify the problem! liars, cover up cowboys and the best one – plausable deniability! they all need to go to jail and that is the so called medical experts they ask to review cases never mind the cover up cowboys at the PHSO itself…. Dont hold your breath! I suggest buy a submarine – because holding your breath wont work!

  13. Teresa Rose Steele (@treezsteele)

    I am none too hopeful that things will change within the PHSO. There are a lot of people speaking out, no longer as a lone voice but collectively – thanks to our pressure group headed by Della Reynolds and whose key contributors add to the mix. I can’t help but think lip service is yet again being paid. All our cases demonstrate similar failings within the complaint handling system. The one and only place the ordinary man or woman can go to be helped when an injustice has been served – that’s what we are told, but that is not what we found. I agree with Steven Fletcher’s analogy of ‘See No Evidence, Hear No Evidence and Admit No Evidence. As for historic cases that have been caught up in the now agreed failings of the PHSO – are they to be dismissed as Collateral damage? I am a bit suspicious at the £300,000 being ear marked for staff training to make things more efficient for the complainant – surely training is something the hierarchy within the PHSO needs to take on board, fewer people at the top = less money on training, in fact I’m sure there would be someone willing to take on that role of ‘teacher’ at a fraction of the cost, someone like a victim of injustice at the hands of the establishment for example, they would be able to teach the PHSO management a great deal for a lot less money. Stop throwing tax payers cash at a failing model, admit defeat and start again, this time listening to complainants. It’s not rocket science so don’t make it complicated with long winded documents, after all actions speak louder than words. One day I hope to have my own families complaints given the respect they deserved.

  14. John O'Brien

    Teresa. Sadly the only solution to get justice is through the courts. . The “NHS litigation authority” paid out over one billion pounds in out of court settlements in 2014. The “no won no fee” solicitors get about one third of that in fees. Sadly the only way to get justice is to hit them in the pocket and name them and shame them in court. .

    For those who watch tv I watched “Trust Me” in horror as another NHS cover up was exposed. In Casualty last Saturday a senior doctor ( Connie) told a junior doctor to cover up the murder he committed in A&E
    It is horrifying to me that real life is now appearing in “fictional” tv dramas and soaps .

  15. Pingback: The Public CONfidence Trick | phsothetruestory

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