PHSO were recently advertising for two non-executive board members.

We are looking for two new Board members to join a well-functioning and collaborative team, who will bring the necessary experience and personal values and qualities that will help shape strategic thinking and support the delivery of our three-year strategic plan.

The pay was around £10K for a commitment of two days a month. Nice work if you can get it, but the deadline has passed, just in case you were thinking of applying. So what sort of people are considered suitable for such a role?

We are looking for individuals from a range of backgrounds and are particularly interested in qualified accountants with an understanding of public sector financial and risk management, and leaders who bring strategic customer, business transformation, and digital credentials.

Non-executive board members should bring an outsider perspective. Useful for holding the Ombudsman to account. But they tend to be chosen from close-knit circles who move seamlessly from one board room to another. Take Polly Curtis, for example. She became a non-exec board member at PHSO in May 2022.

From a Radio Ombudsman podcast in October 2022 we learn that Polly is also CEO of Demos which is chaired by the previous Ombudsman, Dame Julie Mellor. Demos is a ‘think tank’ with an office in Whitehall. Handy that, and expensive for an organisation dependent on charitable donations. They ‘independently’ carry out research into public opinion which is fed back to government policy makers. Or perhaps that’s the other way round. Funded by government they match public opinion to policy intentions. Take this recent research into ‘A good Retirement’

Our research, including a survey of around 2,000 members of the general public as well as focus groups with people over 40, showed that people value health and financial wellbeing in retirement, and believe the government should provide a safety net of some sort, but most tend to agree that wellbeing in late life is a matter of individual responsibility.

my emphasis.

Our research also found that the number of people who believe that it is an individual’s responsibility to pay for one’s care appears to be growing with time. However, few people are actively preparing to meet their potential social care costs, and a quarter of the public remain complacent and assume the government will provide care free of charge.

my emphasis

Although the report is 66 pages long it would appear they totally overlooked lack of notification for women born in the 1950’s of the raise in state pension age as a factor in ‘preparing for a good retirement’. It is also interesting to note the way they use the term ‘free’ as in ‘If I need to use care and support services in the future, these will be free’ apparently overlooking the fact that pensioners have already paid for these services with 40+ years of National Insurance contributions and taxation. It is clear to see the line of direction this particular think tank is promoting. They pitch the ball and the government knock it out of the park.

We learn from the PHSO podcast that Polly Curtis is also a journalist, who likes to tell truth to power.

So perhaps Polly is just the person to get inside the PHSO upheld case data and expose what is wrong in this system.

It is widely accepted that the NHS has been in a steady decline since the financial crash of 2008, which triggered a decade of austerity cuts. The NHS has seen real-terms underfunding, a reduction in capacity through bed closures and recruitment issues which leave many facilities permanently short of staff. These issues have become so acute there are currently widespread NHS staff walkouts, on a scale not seen since the 1970’s.

You would expect the steady decline in service to be matched by a steady increase in upheld NHS complaints at PHSO. But that is not the case. The data appears to show that there has been steady decline in serious NHS complaints.

When the number of upheld cases is converted to a percentage of the total number of complaints per annum, we can see that it is indeed a steady decline.

From looking at this data government departments would have no concerns with regard to NHS complaints. They seem to be consistently low and showing no signs of stress. Nothing to see here. Yet on 3rd February 2020, the Law Society Gazette reports that Hill Dickinson, who specialise in protecting the NHS from litigation, have had a bumper year.

So come on Polly use your perceptive journalist skills and your Orwell Prize winning nous and get to the bottom of this conundrum.

Let us give the last word to Rob Behrens, the Ombudsman. Having upheld fewer, and fewer NHS complaints since his arrival in 2017 he makes, without a hint of irony, the following statement in his podcast interview with Polly.

Polly, can you use your place on the board to enlighten Rob Behrens as to why the NHS is repeating the same mistakes time and again and not learning from experience? After all, driving positive change is part of your skill set.