Mr Behrens response to PACAC – fact check.

When Rob Behrens took over as the new Ombudsman in April 2017 it was very much hoped that he would instigate a more open and transparent regime at the PHSO. Sadly this has not yet proved to be the case. Let us unravel some of the spin and obfuscation in his recent letter to Bernard Jenkin, published on 23rd January 2017 on the PACAC website.

Financial compensation paid in 2016-17.

According to Mr Behrens letter;

PHSO made 13 payments to complainants in 2016-17, totalling £26,333. This included a single payment made to a complainant’s solicitors to reimburse legal fees they had incurred of £24,855 in relation to one of our investigations. The remaining 12 payments, therefore, totalled £1,478 and were relatively small consolatory payments to complainants ranging between £50 and £228.

This recent FOI request from PHSO fails to mention the significantly large sum of £24,855 which must indicate a major failure on the part of PHSO. In other respects, Mr Behrens estimate matches up with the data previously released, although the smallest payment was £11.00 and not £50.00 as he claims. To put these payments in context it would have been far more helpful to list the payments made over a range of years. As can be seen below, 2016-17 was unusual for the relatively small sums of compensation paid out to mistreated complainants apart from the one major payment. It is interesting to note that the one significant payment clearly had legal backing.

FOI compensation payments Jan 2018


Delays in dealing with feedback from complainants.

When trying to explain the increasing delays Mr Behrens claims “the increasing number of investigations……led to an increase in the amount of work subject to review”

This is interesting as the previous Ombudsman, Dame Julie Mellor told PACAC that the increased number of investigations would save money by lowering the number of reviews requested.  Equally, in the 2016-17 Annual Report compiled under Mr Behrens stewardship it is stated that;

The significant decline in the number of complaints needing a review is likely a result of our more consistent criteria and ways of working at every step of our process. p17

In fact, the annual report appears to show that the number of reviews has indeed declined from 392 in 2014-15 to just 81 in 2016-17 so how does this explain the increasing delays in dealing with feedback?

reviews from annual report

Missing from this table, as it is every year, is the total number of review requests which is a very different figure to the total number of reviews.  PHSO decide in-house whether a review request merits an actual review and as the number of requests rises (due to poor performance) so the number of reviews decreases giving a false impression of the quality of decision making at PHSO.  The real question Mr Jenkin should be asking is ‘how many review requests did PHSO receive this year and why is that figure omitted from the annual report?

This FOI request from September 2017 gives the detail.  (The discrepancies in the figures is due to a discrepancy in response from PHSO).

In 2015-16 there were 1,969 review requests concerning the decision. PHSO reviewed 218 (11%) and upheld 19 (0.9%)
In 2016 – 17 there were actually 383 more review requests for decisions with the total of decision reviews at 2,352.  Even more people dissatisfied yet PHSO reviewed only 81 (3.4%) and upheld 15 (0.6%). Without putting the total number of review requests in the Annual Report they then try to use the lower figure to argue that their service has improved at all levels when the data show the absolute opposite. More dissatisfaction.

If review requests are considered to be a sign of dissatisfaction then it can be seen that this has increased at a near 20% rate which should be alarming.  Mr Behrens neglects to mention that of the 15 upheld reviews only 5 led to a changed decision which is about 1 in every 500 requests. The situation in 2015-16 was even worse when only 2 out 1969 review requests led to a change of decision. This is shameful and more appropriate for an authoritarian state than for a liberal democracy. Is there any other judicial or quasi-judicial body that has such a low rate of successful appeal or review? It shouldn’t be surprising though when reviews are carried out by the same body that made the original decision, in secret and without external audit. This is not an acceptable state of affairs and it will have to change. The only question is how long it will take and which officials and MPs will be seen by history as the champions of justice for speaking out.

Mr Behrens also claims that “our caseworkers do also regularly receive positive feedback directly from complainants about their work, even where we have not upheld a complaint”.

Well, that sounds very nice for all caseworkers involved but it is an easy statement to make without any evidence to back it up. So what does the actual evidence show? Well, according to a recent FOI request there were a grand total of 8 compliments recorded in 2016-17 from a total of 3,306 feedback comments ((0.2%)


The Customer Care Team, who consist of just 15 members of staff, are clearly run off their feet finding ways to turn down review requests, no wonder they don’t get many compliments.

Service Charter feedback.

Further on Mr Behrens states that according to the Service Charter, for “July to September 2017, 78% of all complainants agreed that we gave them the information they needed”

Well, that sounds very impressive. The information they needed about the investigation right? Unfortunately not. According to the Service Charter, it means:

We will explain our role and what we can and cannot do

We will explain how we handle complaints and what information we need from you

We will direct you to someone who can help with your complaint if we are unable to, where possible

We will keep you regularly updated on our progress with your complaint


So nothing at all to do with the really important information about the investigation, just basic things that should be taken for granted.

It is also stated by Mr Behrens that “70% agreed that we had provided a good service”

More impressive statistics. That does refer to the quality of the investigation right? Unfortunately not. According to the Service Charter, it means:

We will treat you with courtesy and respect

We will give you a final decision on your complaint as soon as we can

We will make sure our service is easily accessible to you and give you support and help if you need it  giving-you-good-service

So again, nothing at all to do with the most important part of the complaint, the quality of the investigation.

So why doesn’t Mr Behrens refer to any of the important statistics about the quality of the investigation? Well, let’s have a look at a couple:

Only 44% agreed that “We will gather all the information we need, including from you and the organisation you have complained about before we make our decision” This is down 8% from the previous quarter.

Only 50% agreed that “We will explain our decision and recommendations, and how we reached them”. This is down 9% from the previous quarter.

So when it comes to the actual investigation, the most important part of the complaint, the statistics are not looking so good. But what about one of the most important statements regarding the quality of investigations. The statement of impartiality. How do complainants view this statement?

“We will evaluate the information we’ve gathered and make an impartial decision on your complaint”  following-open-and-fair-process

Well, strangely enough, no figure has ever been published for the number of complainants who agreed with this statement. Why not?  Perhaps it such a small number that it is too embarrassing to publish? In the Complainant_feedback_survey_2015-16 only 35% thought the decision “followed an independent, fair, and unbiased assessment”. Perhaps that’s why they stopped asking the public that particular question.

Bear in mind that with all the Service Charter data just 24% of people who had a complaint investigated were contacted for feedback and 3% of people who had their case dismissed. (p13 Annual Report). Think how different these figures would be if everyone had automatic access to feedback their opinion of PHSO.

This independent study by Naomi Creutzfeldt found that only 12.4% of the public had trust in the public service Ombudsman. do-complainants-trust-ombuds (2016)

Historic Cases

Mr Behrens reiterates his claim that “there should not be a permanent body that routinely and independently reviews our decisions”, and claims that “the purpose of the Ombudsman is to be the independent complaint handler of last resort”. This would be fine if the PHSO delivered a high-quality service. It doesn’t and the statistics show that it doesn’t.

Isn’t the real reason for his attempt to quash the idea of any independent oversight of the Ombudsman’s decisions would be that, for the first time, the Ombudsman would become accountable, and the dreadful quality of the investigations could no longer be hidden?The Health Select Committee recommended an external audit of a selection of investigation reports to ensure quality and standards are maintained and indeed external examiners were employed for that very purpose, now all long gone. It would appear that Mr Behrens, just like his predecessor, is an expert in spin. Will Bernard Jenkin demand full disclosure from the Ombudsman? Mmmmmmm


A public information service brought to you by PHSOtheFACTS 





  1. EJ

    Absolutely stunning blog post Della. Very sharp and very revealing. Needs to be Tweeted and shared all over FB and other social media. Maybe Tweeted direct to Bernard Jenkin. PHSO are absolutely devious and underhand. Does Behrens really think people are fooled? How must it feel to be so arrogant and superior, to know you are getting paid out of the public purse for this fiasco and lying to people for the money. Shameful behaviour and there’s a special place in the lake of fire for all who collude in this circus.

  2. Anne B

    Interestingly, Mr Behrens also doesn’t mention that the automated response for the Customer Care team was completely wrong for at least the last 7 months . It gave an assignment time of 6 weeks and a response time of a further 4 weeks. I advised them that this was wrong via a freedom of information request and asked what steps the PHSO were taking to put it right and was told that they were taking steps. (Yeah, I know, incisive investigation of the standard we expect from the PHSO!) Seven weeks and pressure from me and they altered the message and are, allegedly contacting people to explain the situation. This has been recorded as a breach of their Service Standards (whopeee, I feel so much better for that – not!) It was my FOI request that was quoted at the Select Committee Hearing.

    I’m currently waiting for the head of customer care to come back to me after discussing my case with Mr Behrens because the service level was so poor but I’m not holding my breath…

    • Anne B

      Update. I’m now waiting for Mr Behrens to write to me personally. I think I’m supposed to be flattered and believe that they’ll make real change.

      • Anne B

        I suppose it’d be very naughty of us to compare notes on the answers we get? Mine’s promised next week but the Head of Customer Care isn’t in the office so someone else is meant to be giving me a contact point if I’ve got any concerns in the mean time. I think I’m pleased because I’ve only been with the CCT for ten months but I haven’t enjoyed the experience any more than I expect you have.

  3. John O'Brien

    From my own experience it is clear that there are far too many people in the NHS particularly in administration who are desperate to cover up for each others errors. In that respect the staff in the PHSO do exactly the same thing.. I am currently pursuing three G.P.s for clinical neglect and incompetence and they have invited me to report them to the PHSO., I have already advised them that I consider that to be a waste of time and am now planning to take them to court, with reports to the GMC as well.

    The PHSO from the outset make it clear that they do not normally offer or propose compensation, and if compensation is required they will not consider a complaint if legal proceedings have been started.

    T o my mind the PHSO, therefore is a complete and utter waste of time and tax payers money no matter how well intention the Boss is.

    • dms91

      Wise man! Have suffered Delay, Deny and Defend since 2009 and can categorically say All 3 Ombudsmen I have experienced DO NOT provide the support we pay handsomely for. Believe it costs us in excess of £32M per annum …..,..WHAT FOR? Will they ever learn the the truth may hurt but lies hurt more.


    Mr Jenkin ought to be concerned about the continued rise in complaints to the Customer Care Team who are clearly unable to cope with the rapid increase. According to this FOI on there has been a five-fold increase in phone complaints in one year. PHSO is not a healthy organisation and it is not serving the public.

    I thought you might be interested in some figures concerning customer service that show an almost five-fold increase in the number of complaints received by telephone (these figures exclude those calls that were made direct to those responsible for dealing with complaints).

    In May 2014 there were 23; in April 2015 there were 109:

    ‘Review’ means ‘complaint’. This was confirmed by:

    ‘Please accept my apologies as my response to you on 24 July 2015 (our case reference: FDC 226955) regarding your information request about the wrap-up reason ‘review’ should have been clearer. The wrap-up reason ‘review’ is used by our customer service officers when calls are transferred to the Customer Care team, which is responsible for handling complaints about our service and decisions on complaints.’

    • John O'Brien

      My complaint about customer service was made in writing in 2016. It was rejected out of hand by a Director.

      keep up the pressure please. !


    Another interesting response on Whatdotheyknow reveals the lengths PHSO go to in order to claim ‘positive feedback’. That 70% satisfaction rate is pure pie in the sky.

    The fact check is very illuminating.
    I wish to pick up on one thing from Rob Behren’s letter:

    “I should note that our caseworkers do also regularly receive positive feedback from complainants about their work, even where we have not upheld a complaint.”

    This reminded me of a comment made by Russell Barr (former Director of Investigations):

    “Every week I receive emails and phone calls from managers here with thank you notes from people who have used our service and felt that difference. This is in cases that we don’t uphold as well as the ones that we do.”

    Still spinning.

    And they don’t just wait for for people to contact them with positive feedback. No, they target individuals who are likely to provide them with it.

    Consider this comment taken from their file on positive feedback:

    “Do you remember the names of the individuals from last night who said that they had a positive experience of PHSO? I am keen to ensure that we keep their details as further down the line PHSO may want to ask them if they would like to be involved in another activity going forward.’ (p.65)”

    Here are two examples of what they record as positive feedback:

    “Thank you for your assistance in this matter.” (p162); and (from a hesitant member of staff)

    “Does it count if we get thanked during a phone call? We could write down anything in our note of the call and most people thank us for talking to them. However, I’ve just dealt with a follow up email from a complainant …At the end of the call she said Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to phone me (honestly!).” (183)

    If you read the document containing the positive feedback you may well be puzzled by this statement:

    “The PHSO does not have a written policy for handling positive feedback. In general though, where a member of our staff receives a compliment/positive feedback, they may choose to notify their manager or supervisor. They may also choose to pass a record of this feedback to our review team who keep a log of it.” (December ’14)

    The evidence points less to “may choose to notify” and more to “make sure to notify”.

  6. Elizabeth

    What a great analysis of the use and misuse by the PHSO of their heavily selected data. Many thanks Della. As for compliments and thank-yous….during the course of a long and harrowing complaint saga, our statement “Thank you for your reply” was then used to support the claim that we were happy with the content of the reply – which we most certainly weren’t. Now we only ever write “Thank you for sending me your reply”. It’s always shocking to find how words can get twisted in unscrupulous hands.

  7. Ron

    I think Mr Behrens should go back to school and do his Maths GCSE again, with particular reference to statistics and do 100 lines for being a naughty boy “I must not forget to use all the parts of an equation in the equation”.

  8. MW

    The majority of cases are dismissed without investigation. The cases which move forward are often redefined with many of main concerns heartlessly excised without further examination. In the cases I have knowledge of, no full engagement with complainants take place to understand cases, however simple or complex.

    The addressing of your complaints about PHSO case handling will be corralled in Customer Care – deferred until after the Final Decision made – a decision which, note, is at present irreversible.

    The Decision will be based on the advice of ‘cloaked’ Advisers whose identity you will never learn and who bask in the fact they will never come under scrutiny.

    Few paltry and insulting consolatory payments are made to the ‘lucky’ few whose cases are upheld- paltry set against the years of case preparation. I have evidence that if a slap hand recommendation to review practice at Trusts ensues, no rigorous future monitoring occurs to reassure a complainant that lessons have been taken onboard.

    A resulting report which though it claims to be robust and accountable, isn’t.

    You may well note a haughty, condescending approach, with months/years of waiting before you even get the go -ahead signal. Delays provide an excuse for the parties complained of to argue out of time, or loss of records.
    The cost of Judicial Review puts this beyond reach of those resilient few who have stayed the course, by trying to face up the inhumanity of this system. Few Judicial Reviews ironically suggest a satisfactory system! It is a statistic comforting only to the Ombudsman.

    Complainants risk the trashing of their character if they continue to argue simply for adherence to an investigative approach. The label ‘vexatious’ can bring about disengagement.

    Without Della Reynolds, and those few individuals who first founded this group, the commonality of widespread appalling experience at the hands of the Ombudsman’s Office would not have become so starkly apparent. Those who followed behind them in this complaint journey are indebted.

  9. John O'Brien

    Elizabeth, I never thank anybody for a reply. I always acknowledge receipt of a reply.. These guys are expert at twisting words and making inaccurate interpretations. They are after all, highly trained to avoid accountability, like all civil servants. .

  10. David

    Over the past 4 years, I have closely observed how the PHSO operate. I am amazed how they can describe their ‘investigations’ as ‘robust’. Complainant’s points are summarised, in PHSO Final reports, in such a way that any reader would assume they are groundless and have been brought without documentary evidence.

    The PHSO do not write something along the lines of ‘Mrs X complains that ‘A’ occurred and she has forwarded documentary evidence which confirms this.’

    They leave the justification for complaint out of the report, thus ensuring any future reader can point to the complainant as a time waster. I know – I’ve witnessed it. Not being believed is demeaning in the extreme and the best deterrent for those looking to ultimately improve care for everyone.

  11. W. M

    New ombudsman same old organisation, approach and misinformation.
    We are told to expect transparency- when? its been promised since 2009 in my experience and logged in Hansard in the minutes of the Commons Select committee scrutiny of successive PHSO. When is Parliament going to act instead of talk? MP’s know the system is broken so why waste funds on it? Regional and local complaint processing was more effective before HSO was invented in 2010 out of HCC. That’s how long I have been awaiting justice.
    Without transparency, can we ensure honesty??

    • John O'Brien

      Interesting that today a Government Minister announced that nobody could believe what civil servants do. Does this mean that at last Government Ministers are beginning to realise what deceit and lies go on within the civil service. and placed on public record !

  12. Teresa Rose Steele (@treezsteele)

    If the PHSO give statistics that show they receive positive feed back from service users, whether their cases are upheld or not, then the surveys must be written in a way which means the response can only be a positive one – i.e. ‘Was the member of the customer care team polite’? The service user answers by ticking a box indicating ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with no ‘box’ to elaborate. I can honestly say the members of the customer care team I spoke with were always polite whilst at the same time ignoring my evidence and sound reasoning, I found this infuriating.

    • John O'Brien

      Jacob Rees Mogg M.P. stated this week that you cannot believe statistics published by civil servants. A brave man speaking the truth ?

      I am considering contact with he CPS to consider charges for “misconduct in public office” against the Head of the NHs Trust who refused to treat because of my complaint, which he considered was a “break down in the therapeutic. relationship.” .The head of the adult social services at my County Council also lied in his evidence to the PHSO. . I have been suffering for and having treatment for Post Sepsis Syndrome, when I first established it as a serious problem in January 2016 nearly 18 months after discharge .

      I believe there is more than one way to skin a cat. Happy to share PHSO documentation with anybody who wants copies to support their case. United we stand ! Together we will win.! ( hope)

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