Rob Behrens, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman since 2017 regularly bemoans the fact that people just don’t understand the role of the Ombudsman. It’s hard to know why there is so much confusion when the role is clearly laid out on the PHSO website.

We make final decisions on complaints that have not been resolved by the NHS in England and UK government departments and other public organisations. We do this fairly and without taking sides. Our service is free.


But perhaps if you have a long standing complaint awaiting justice at the Ombudsman’s office you might have been a little confused by this recent tweet.

When the Ombudsman isn’t busy making final decisions on UK complaints he likes to spend his time in International circles. He is after all an elected member of the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI) since 2020 and Vice-President, Europe since November 2021.

If you want to know more about his recent visit to Ukraine you can listen to a helpful interview between Rob Behrens and Donal Gilligan from the Ombudsman Association. It would seem that as well as caring about the thousands of UK citizens who bring desperate complaints to his organisation, Rob Behrens cares deeply about International human rights and through his role in the IOI he was able to share his concern that the Russian Ombuds was not completely impartial.

One of the reasons he went (1 min 40) was to support Chris Field (The President of Int Omb Instit).  RB said in the Donal Gilligan interview-

‘The world board came to the view, a common view, that the Russians are not an independent impartial body- as Ombudsman Institutions need to be- but they are simply a mouthpiece of the Kremlin which was ignoring the basic realities of the invasion.  So, with great reluctance, we voted to expel the Russians and decided to do whatever we could to provide support to our Ukranian colleagues.’

No shit Sherlock! An Ombudsman lacking impartiality. How had this remained hidden for so long? Urgent action had to be taken and Rob Behrens was the man to spearhead the campaign. Later in the interview he says;  “you know, we have to practice our values, not just talk the talk otherwise we bring our own profession into disrepute in the way we are perceived.” Quite right.

After all, with generous transparency Rob Behrens had recently thrown open the doors to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman for peer review by the IOI. Although the report opens with biographies of the panel members, emphasising both their credibility and impartiality, there was no mention of the senior role that Rob Behrens himself holds in the organisation invited to produce an independent report. Clearly just an oversight.

This extract from the executive summary is positively glowing and indeed all parties appear to be most satisfied with the outcome.

This is the report of the second independent peer review into the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) and the first in the world to be undertaken under the International Ombudsman Institute framework with accredited reviewers. In 2018, the first peer review concluded that, having faced organisational crisis, PHSO was moving out of ‘critical care’ into ‘recovery’.1 This review finds that PHSO is now a substantially stronger organisation than it was at the time of the first peer review in 2018. It is an efficient, enhanced and effective modern Ombudsman service, which provides significant value for its stakeholders. PHSO has improved its internal controls and introduced various initiatives, such as its Complaint Standards, its Academy and accreditation training, new assurance processes and the appointment of a significant number of new staff. At the same time, the work and role of PHSO is made more challenging for the organisation and less accessible to the public by the lack of much-needed reform of its statutory powers and framework.


Rob Behrens was delighted to take a copy of the report to the recent PACAC scrutiny meeting as evidence that all was well at PHSO.

The IOI report gives details of the Corporate Strategy for 2022 – 2025 as follows.

PHSO’s Corporate Strategy 2022-25 identifies the following strategic objectives: improving access to justice; providing a high quality, empathetic and timely service in accordance with international ombudsman principles; and contributing to a culture of learning and continuous improvement, leading to high standards in public services.


It then goes on to review the complaint handling data from 2018/19 (a year after the arrival of Rob Behrens) to 2021/22 as summarised in the table below. No comment was made about these figures yet this data tells a very damning story about the work of the Ombudsman and in particular the way in which access to justice has decreased since 2018.

Total complaints112,262122,367
Accepted for consideration 29,264 36,248
Rejected after initial checks 21,672 29,213
Rejected after primary investigation 6,332 6,760
Detailed investigation 1,837 612
Upheld in part or full 746 394
Government 38 45
NHS 708 349

An analysis shows that in 2018/19 95.6% of the cases initially accepted as meeting PHSO criteria were rejected before receiving a detailed investigation. 6.2% of accepted cases received a full investigation and 2.5% were upheld to some degree. By 2021/22 the chance of a positive outcome for the complainant had fallen dramatically. 99.2% were rejected prior to receiving a full investigation. Just 1.6% survived to the detailed investigation stage and only 1% were upheld to some degree.

Just 1% of all the complaints accepted in 2021/22 received any kind of uphold.

When the peer review team used the terms ‘efficient, enhanced and effective’ were they referring to the speed at which cases were closed by the Ombudsman? When so many citizen complaints are rejected without receiving a full investigation how can this be determined as high quality and empathetic? And with just a 1% uphold rate how can this possibly lead to a culture of learning and high standards in public services? Surprisingly, none of the eminent peer review team thought to ask these questions. Probably just another oversight. They are very busy people, with lots of meetings to attend.

It is no wonder that the collective Ombuds struggle to find an algorithm for measuring ‘value for money’ when the true value of the Ombudsman is in protecting the state from litigation and compensation. Our Ombudsman may not be the ‘mouthpiece’ of the government but he certainly does his bit to protect them from the angry mob.

In any event. Whether or not your complaint is investigated or upheld, you can take comfort in the fact that Rob Behrens and his fellow Ombuds will sit together and light a candle in protection of your human rights. Now doesn’t that make you feel better.