Tagged: PHSO

Open Letter to PHSO

“Marks Out of Ten”

Guest blog from phso-thefacts member

In 2013 PHSOthefacts formed and has grown significantly since that time, with the influx of more and more disgruntled and distressed complainants searching for answers.  Complainants who did not receive justice through PHSO and were left more harmed, through taking their complaint to that final stage, in an attempt at redress.  In discussion, PHSOthefacts members have discovered over time, that the same communication tactics have been used by not only the body they complained about but PHSO itself.  There is clearly a format to fobbing off and side-lining complainants and some of these stock tactics are listed below.

The new Ombudsman, Rob Behrens, promises improvement and change, we want to test these promises and see if people continue to receive the same stock handling, as we continue this journey to justice.  This post, therefore, constitutes an open letter to the new Ombudsman, who we will benchmark for his performance against these communication tactics:

  1. discrediting you – this can take the form of the following type of phrases “I do not find your point/claim relevant” (implying you are being frivolous or confused), “I disagree with your opinion” (implying you are incorrect or deluded), “it is unreasonable/impossible to expect” (self-explanatory and we don’t have to deal with this expectation because we have labelled it thus) or “please do not make false statements” (you are lying/being unprofessional/vexatious, which is a thinly-veiled threat to cease communications and they have now documented the excuse), “Person X’s expert opinion is” (you are a dumb Joe Public and cannot possibly know more than the alleged expert so you are clearly delusional);
  2. statements of I/we are willing to listen/learn/be transparent – you won’t get the resolution/response you are seeking, I/we want to look good in the public eye or when a third party oversees me/us, so a show will be made of holding meetings or seeking your feedback in writing and thanking you for it (but summarily disregarding it) so I/we can document it was done (i.e. a process was followed) and you just need to get over it and move forward, because this is a firmly closed door;
  3. ignoring evidence from reliable sources – you may have done Freedom of Information requests or gone over documented information with a fine tooth-comb and can prove what you say, but the facts you present will be glossed over, explained away, or most likely, simply strategically ignored in the response;
  4. padding and diverting – the communication will expend a minimum of one lengthy paragraph and often more, to pad out the response by stating the exceedingly obvious, such as what the body’s purpose is and what it does, in an attempt to divert from the fact that they have paid lip service to their remit and may include a paragraph telling you to approach someone else/another body in the ‘not in my remit’ game;
  5. strength in numbers/intimidation/bullying – stating that x, y, z person/body/group (especially those with alleged stature or kudos) ALL think differently than you, so you are just an insignificant little nobody and no-one else will agree with you. Otherwise known as circular assurance as each body closes your case down without proper investigation;
  6. apportioning blame/psychological warfare – apologising for YOUR opinion, view or feeling on the matter, so at first glance appearing conciliatory, but in fact denigrating YOU as being at fault for having said opinion or feeling, because clearly they have done nothing wrong and you are at fault for whatever it is you are communicating with them about;
  7. promises of changing/improving – this is another deflection, trying their arm at telling you things will be better in future, in the hope you will forget the issue YOU are contacting them about, because really you should just be satisfied with their glossy promises;
  8. taking control – authoritative statements about what will happen next, making it clear they have all the power and you just have to go along for the ride, may also include their version of minutes of any meetings that have taken place which you know to contain incorrect statements as you were present, designed to confuse and outrage you and make you feel it’s a battle not worth fighting;
  9. making false statements – sometimes this is simply incompetence, but more often this is to document factually incorrect information and has the added bonus of making you despair still further, so are more likely to give up or expend more time and effort responding to the inaccuracies which deflects you further and further from your initial point. Once it’s documented, the falsehoods grow and the runaway train is harder to stop;
  10. copying in third parties as a threat – gives the illusion that the author of the communication is ultra-confident in their missive and that they have friends (often in high places) who will back them up so you had better back off as their army is oh so much bigger than you.

PHSOthefacts are a group of valid complainants who seek reasonable outcomes.  Learning can only truly come, when cases have been fully and honestly reviewed, to identify what went wrong and remedy what can still be put right.  PHSO made the decisions not to investigate or not to uphold and only PHSO can correct those actions.  PHSO needs to gain credibility, this won’t happen until it admits its own wrongdoing and provides redress, only then can it criticise and become an exemplar for the bodies it investigates.  We await your future communications with interest (and score chart at the ready), Mr Behrens.


PHSO – can a dysfunctional organisation reform itself?

Jeremy Hunt, the Health Minister used the Sunday Times to share his rebuke of Dame Julie Mellor, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman for insensitive treatment of bereaved families when dealing with their NHS complaints.

Hunt added: “When sometimes things go wrong, we need a humane complaints system which provides redress and does not feel like a faceless bureaucracy.”

The Sunday Times

It is unusual for a Minister to publicly criticise the Ombudsman, an organisation set up to be independent and effectively self-governing.  Mr. Hunt however felt so strongly that he has referred the matter to PACAC, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee who monitor the work of the Ombudsman service.

 He has demanded that Mellor make an unreserved apology to Titcombe and other bereaved families and has referred the ombudsman to the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee.

There is a good deal of finger wagging going on here, but as neither PACAC nor Mr. Hunt have the power to take any direct action it will be down to the Ombudsman and her team to put the matter right.  The blind leading the short-sighted.

A dysfunctional organisation is incapable of reform

due to its own dysfunction.  

 The first step to reform is insight into your own strengths and weaknesses.  This is sadly lacking at PHSO where recent negative feedback, collected in preparation for a new service charter, has been dismissed as delusional myth in their new #mythbusting project.  Apparently you can make all the bad comments go away by using a toothy cartoon monster to cut them down to size.  Myth_1_formatted_for_PHSO_website (1)


Daniel Newman, business professor and best selling author, warns of the dangers of a dysfunctional management team who can literally suck the life out of any organisation.8-signs-dysfunctional-management   Among the signs to look out for he includes;

  • Narcissistic: When management (individual or as a whole) is obsessed with their individual success, it is a huge red flag. To lead, management must serve those on the front line. Upon driving performance, management will get their due recognition. However, when the sole purpose is to feed the ego and support the growth of management you can count on rampant dysfunction and less then desirable results.

If a sign of dysfunction is the growth of management to the detriment of front line delivery then this complex PHSO management chart screams a red flag warning.   PHSO/Org-Chart-July-2015

farceWhen you start making up titles like, ‘Director of Strategy and Insight’ and ‘Director of Quality and Service Integrity’ you are verging on farce.

Complex management structures diffuse decision making and accountability, resulting in no-one having the least idea who is responsible for what.



  • Non-Committal: Strategy of the week, the day or the hour? It is a terrible feeling for an employee to feel like their direction is changing faster than the weather in Chicago. While change can be adapted more rapidly in a stronger culture, in a weak or dysfunctional culture the fragile nature of the employees can be broken by even positive change.

Both the Director of Strategy and Insight and the Director of Quality and Service Integrity were present at a recent PHSO meeting (April 2015) where staff concerns were discussed.

  • Staff Engagement
    • There have been listening sessions with the staff to do three things: say thank to staff, discuss our role and listen to what the workforce has to say
    • A significant number of staff are dissatisfied about the way that change has been imposed at pace
    • Some staff think we have lost sight of our role and core purpose
    • The workforce wants us to explain how the new method and approach are supposed to work
    • Staff want us to respond more robustly to the external criticism and ‘fight our corner’.

It is perplexing to find that the staff at phso do not understand how the new method and approach work given that they have been part of this change programme since 2013.  Sharing a common understanding should be the starting point, not the end point.  Not to worry though as the Director of Quality and Service Integrity is able to clarify the situation.

  • The Director of Quality & Service Integrity presented his paper to the Board and advised that the underlying rationale for the Integrated Change Programme is that staff often feel that change is ad hoc and unplanned (even when there has been sound planning), so there is a need for something that is explicitly and demonstrably cohesive and integrated.

So that’s all good then.   Until the Chair sums up with the statement that;

  • Quality – we need to be sure what we’re trying to do before we can assess whether we’ve achieved it.

Which brings us back to the start, no wonder the staff are confused.  Damning Staff Survey 2015

  • Turn-Over: Are you seeing a revolving door of people coming and going? This is a really bad sign and something that needs to be quickly rectified. If employees are leaving, whether by choice or not, then you can be fairly certain that management is dysfunctional. Hiring is never an exact science and the elimination of low performers is important. However, companies with high turn-over are often seeing this due to weak culture and poor leadership. The rapid change of people is a Band-Aid by management to cover up for a much bigger problem which they can find in the mirror.

Staff turnover for public service organisations is generally less than 12% per annum.  In 2013/14 the staff turnover for PHSO was 21.3%.  Despite a pledge to address this issue from the Ombudsman herself, it remained at 21.7% for 2014/15.  staff_turnover_at_phso

  • Passive-Aggressive: Whether it is showing up late to meetings, forgetting to share important details, or consistent excuses for not getting things done. These behaviors are damaging in all cases. For instance, the late arrival to a meeting once can be an accident. Regularly showing up late is a sign of indifference and can likely be a sign that the person doesn’t care about or for what the meeting is about. In strong cultures this behavior is nipped in the bud, but in a dysfunctional environment this can be seen throughout the workplace.

Failure to meet deadlines is a common occurrence at PHSO.  At the end of the financial year, they release their annual report and accounts.  Each year the wait for the data grows increasingly longer.  According to the April minutes the first draft was ready in early May.  It is now September and the final draft has yet to emerge from the intricate layers of management and bureaucracy.

Mr. Hunt was right to point out that PHSO was failing to deliver a humane complaints system.  It is also failing to investigate complaints in any robust manner, failing to improve service delivery and regularly failing to deliver to an agreed time scale.

If  PHSO were a failing school the government would not hesitate to remove the entire management team within a week.  

Words are good Mr. Hunt, action is better. 



Does Dame Julie Mellor meet the ‘fit and proper person’ test.


Following the Kirkup Inquiry into events at Morecambe Bay Maternity Unit where mothers and babies died unnecessarily; James Titcombe and other members of MBIA called for the resignation of the Ombudsman, Dame Julie Mellor.    morecambebayinquiry   James writes on his blog;

“We must also mention that of all the organisations involved in the events at Morecambe Bay, the Health Service Ombudsman have been by far the most incompetent. The Kirkup report refrains from strong direct criticism of the Health Ombudsman, but a careful review of the report by anyone knowing the full history of their involvement reveals some damning truths. Time and time again we feel that the Ombudsman’ Office has shown the wrong culture and has acted in an indefensible way.”

“Today our families wish to lead the call for Dame Julie Mellor to resign so that new leadership can start to change this culture and recover the shattered creditably of this organisation. The many patients who have been forced to experience this tier of the NHS complaints system deserve nothing less.”

Carl Hendrickson
Liza Brady
Simon Davey 
James Titcombe

Before the ink was dry, more damning revelations were put in the public domain by Shaun Lintern from HSJ.   Which can be read in full here:  phsos-capability-questioned-after-morecambe-bay-report

A particularly telling quote from Bernard Jenkin, Chair of PASC stated that:

“There is absolutely no dispute that there is a lack of capacity for immediate, objective, independent and confidential investigative capacity into clinical incidents. The capacity simply does not exist and there is confusion about who is responsible for what.”

“The PHSO was never set up with clinical incident investigations in mind. It is not a system we are going to recommend that patient safety relies on.”

James continues with;

“If it wasn’t for the Kirkup inquiry the decision of the Ombudsman would have been the final word. It would have vindicated the individuals involved and their behaviour as well as reinforce the poor culture.  That is the opposite of what the PHSO is supposed to do and increases the chance the same thing will happen again. It is dangerous and only a few weeks ago the Ombudsman said in a statement that they stood by the quality of their investigations.  The actions of the PHSO are disgraceful. They have revised their statement only after Bill Kirkup intervened. I think Dame Julie should consider her position.”

So is Dame Julie Mellor a fit and proper person to lead PHSO through its modernisation programme?  

Let us look at the evidence. 

A member of the establishment with an entry in Debretts Julie Mellor was awarded a DBE in 2006 and took office as the Ombudsman in January 2012 following a partnership at Price Waterhouse Coopers (2005 – 2011)  wikipedia

“Julie has a reputation for strong leadership, including turning around failing public bodies and supporting staff teams to deliver more effectively and efficiently.”  (From CV to PASC)  publications.parliament 

She was to be a ‘new broom’ brought in to replace Ann Abraham whose tenure had been tainted by events at Mid Staffs  Julie Bailey comments on PHSO and suggestions of collusion with CQC over baby deaths at Morecambe Bay.

So what has Dame Julie achieved in the last three years? 

Starting with ‘listening to customers’ it is not clear what progress was made between January 2012 and April 2013, presumably discussion took place concerning the newstrategic-plan  which was announced in November 2012.  The central thrust of this plan was to provide ‘more impact for more people’ and it was decided that PHSO would investigate up to 10x more cases; a plan launched on 1st April 2013.    more-investigations-for-more-people

By the end of 2013 with news that PHSO were investigating  4 x more cases Dame Julie released this update;

“As well as carrying out more investigations, another of our aims is to make sure that we have a strong voice in the debate about the reform of the complaints system across the public sector. “  end-of-year-message-from-the-ombudsman

Shame that this ‘strong voice’ was not in evidence during a recent Radio 4 interview on 7.2.15  Following the disclosure from PHSO that 40% of NHS investigations were inadequate, Dame Julie was asked by James Naughtie what should be done about poor NHS complaint handling and she replied,

“Ultimately up to the health sector to explore and understand why these investigations are not happening and work together to make sure they can get more consistent investigations in the future.”   

phsothefacts- evidence to PASC 

By February 2014 it was announced that the Ombudsman was now handling  8 x more complaints than the previous year and in May 2014, as we entered a new financial year, there was a promise to virtually double the previous number of complaints investigated which stood at 2,199 for 2013 – 14.

“Our ambition is to investigate around 4,000 cases a year by the end of 2014-15.” 

This was an ambitious target indeed given that the numbers of front-line staff had actually decreased from 131 to 122.  investigative_staff_levels

Latest figures show that Dame Julie is on track to meet her target with  3,085 investigations completed in January 2015.  januarys-performance-statistics  However this push to carry out more investigations has come at a heavy price.  There appears to be a major rift between management and front line staff which was clearly highlighted in the 2013 staff survey  where confidence in senior managers fell from 60% to 19%.

Although required to adopt new ways of working and a significant increase in workload, front line staff were not allocated any specific funds for training as part of the strategic plan.  money_spent_on_training  Instead under the stewardship of Dame Julie £120,000 was spent on board development and leadership coaching for three senior members of staff.  This contract was awarded to Rosemary Jackson Consulting, a previous colleague of Dame Julie and led to a rap over the knuckles from the NAO. health-ombudsman-was-investigated-over-contract-failings

There continue to be questions raised about how contracts are awarded and finances monitored at PHSO, as revealed in these FOI requests.  whatdotheyknow.com/request/silver_bear_ltd  and whatdotheyknow.com/request/phso_individual_directorate

Dame Julie Mellor also set up a new ‘Unitary Board’ on arrival at PHSO.

“The Ombudsman has chosen to appoint executives and non-executives to a unitary, decision-making Board to provide robust governance and assure Parliament of the effectiveness and efficiency of the organisation.  The core purposes of the PHSO Board are to lead, provide stewardship, and to preserve and build our reputation.”  the-board

The board consists of 8 members, four senior staff and four non-executives and is chaired by Dame Julie herself.  board-members  She has ultimate control over the board which scrutinises the work of PHSO.

“The Ombudsman is accountable to Parliament through the Public Administration Select Committee.  To reflect her statutory accountability the Ombudsman has the right to disagree with the Board’s decisions but will do so as a last resort and put her reasons in writing to the Board.”

This whole set up smacks of cronyism and effectively puts Dame Julie in charge of holding herself to account.

When Steve Jobs was asked to go back into Apple to save the company from bankruptcy, one of his first moves was to request that everyone on the board resigned.  He bluntly stated that he could either turn the company around or ‘wet nurse’ the board but didn’t have time to do both.

We need a ‘Steve Jobs’ as our new Ombudsman and if this public body is ever going to radically reform its service delivery then the entire board and most of the senior management, (who let’s face it have stood by mute) must resign along with Dame Julie.

The scrutiny board should be capable of scrutiny and should consist of front line staff, representatives from the union, advocacy group representatives and interested lay people in a 50 – 50 split with senior staff.

It could be argued that Dame Julie has hit her target,

but  has she missed the point?








Blue sky thinking just leaves your head in the clouds.

Personal opinion on the new Ombudsman Service Charter:  Della Reynolds coordinator of the PHSO Pressure Group.

Last Monday I attended the third user panel meeting to contribute to the new Service Charter aimed at bringing PHSO in line with the expectations of today’s citizens.     This project is being supported by OPM, an independent, not for profit, research organisation who plan to leave no stone unturned.

  • There are two panels one for complainants and one for advocacy groups.  Each panel meets four times.
  • There is a targeted survey sent to customers, staff, organisations the PHSO investigate and consumer advocacy groups.
  • Six in-depth interviews with customers to understand their complaint journey.
  • Four customer workshops in London, Birmingham and Manchester.
  • On-line surveys and discussion of key issues.
  • All wrapped up in an interactive, dedicated website;  ombudsmanservicecharter.org.uk

At this third meeting we were asked to describe what ‘good’ looks like and write ‘positive’ statements onto little sticky notes.  To be honest the negatives crowded my mind more easily, but I was happy to partake of a little ‘blue sky thinking’ if it would help drag this organisation into the 21st century.  Soon the sticky labels started to pile up, yellow, orange, green; packed with cliché they included words such as ‘independent’,  ‘impartial’,  ‘evidence based’, ‘transparent’  ‘honest’ ….  I’m sure you get the picture.   Our ideas were then discussed, categorised and collated onto wall charts; all part of the journey towards a fair and accountable complaint handling service.

As I went home on the train, tired but satisfied that I had done my bit for the greater good, I started to read ‘My expectations’ otherwise known as the PHSO ‘Vision Report’.  Published in November 2014 this document was produced in response to the government’s ‘Hard Truths’ which in turn came on the back of the Francis’ inquiry into the failings at Mid Staffordshire.  PHSO along with LGO and Healthwatch England set about creating a vision which,  “…aims to align the health and social care sector on what good looks like from the user perspective when raising concerns and complaints about health and social care.”     Mmmm, sounds familiar.

In order to produce this ‘outcomes framework’ PHSO employed the services of ESRO Ltd  esro.co.uk to carry out the primary research and analysis.  ESRO set about the task by consulting widely on the issue with;

  • Unique primary research with over 100 patients and service users.
  • Input from representatives from over 40 different organisations across the health and social care sectors.
  • A desk-based examination of live complaints systems in various settings including hospitals, GP surgeries, local authorities and care homes.
  • Exploration of best practice in the commercial sector.
  • In depth interviews and discussion with pre-existing patient and service user groups.
  • Workshops for front-line staff, complaints service managers, policy makers and executives.

No doubt all were encouraged to imagine what ‘good’ looked like as they wrote  ‘I statements’ on coloured sticky notes.

“These statements present a model of good outcomes that can be easily understood by all patients and service users, as well as by staff at all levels within an organisation.”  

So there we have it.  Just last year this particular wheel was honed to perfection, yet here we are re-inventing it from scratch.  Let’s take stock and see what ‘good’ looks like in this context.

We are very good at;

  • Employing glossy, private companies to carry out research.
  • Asking questions.
  • Collating answers.
  • Writing reports.
  • Making recommendations.
  • Spending money.

We are in fact exceptionally good at all of the above.  Let us review some of our progress so far:

  • NHS Complaints Reform: Making Things Right   (2003)
  • Principals of Good Complaint Handling      (November 2008) 
  • Complaints about privately funded and privately arrange adult social care.  (2011) 
  • Aiming for the best – using lessons from complaints to improve public services.  (2011) 
  • Principals of integrated care (2011) 
  • What people think about complaining.   (2012) 
  • Patients First and Foremost     (March 2013) 
  • The NHS hospital complaints system. A case for good treatment.  (April 2013) 
  • Fear of raising concerns about care.  (April 2013) 
  • Designing Good Together  (2013) 
  • A Review of the NHS Hospitals Complaints System:  Putting Patients Back in the Picture.    (October 2013) 
  • Improving the health and social care complaints systems   (November 2013) 
  • Good practice standards for NHS Complaint handling  (2013) 
  • Hard Truths       (January 2014)
  • My Expectations    (November 2014)

So why are we still asking what ‘good’ looks like?   We know what it looks like even though we rarely see it in practice.

The missing link is the ability to turn any of these heartfelt words into action.

There is, however, one significant difference between the Service Charter and any of the previous reports which makes this process worthwhile.  This is the first time that the Ombudsman service has been put under the spotlight.  Generally good at wagging a finger from the shadows, the role of the Ombudsman has been painfully highlighted by the Patients Association damning report PHSO-The-Peoples-Ombudsman-How-it-Failed-us  the work of the Pressure Group phsothefacts.com  and James Titcombe’s continual search for answers as to why PHSO refused to investigate the death of his baby son at Morecambe Bay in 2010.  patientsafetyfirst.wordpress.com  The Kirkup Inquiry, due to report soon, will undoubtedly provide further insight into the way PHSO contributes to this dysfunctional complaint process.

Once the Service Charter is complete the real work begins of bringing these words to life and the enemy is inertia.

“Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.”   Isaac Newton

PHSO must be compelled to change through public outcry, media spotlight and the active participation of parliamentarians to finally deliver a ‘People’s Ombudsman’ fit for a modern, democratic society.

Well that’s what ‘good’ looks like to me.

Comments welcome.










Is socially accepted injustice inevitable?

If you have ever made a complaint you will recognise this scenario.  Aware that something has gone wrong and being a good citizen you take the time to alert the authorities.  It makes no difference if this is the NHS, ICO or any other acronym you care to think of, they all work the same way.

The conversation you have with the customer service desk is likely to be the most positive part of the experience.  They will listen to your story, ask to see your evidence and give you details of what to do next.  From here it is all downhill.  The person who assesses your evidence will find any reason to close down your case;  out of time, not in our remit, no case to answer.  All bodies will have acted ‘reasonably’ in the eyes of this particular individual.  The supervisor who deals with your review request will agree with this prognosis and so will the CEO, the legal team or the chairman of the board.  Each in turn will agree, there is no case to answer.

If you were to meet any of these people in the street.  If you were to fall in front of them and require their help, every one of them would pick you up, call for an ambulance and show genuine concern for your welfare.  They are not bad people.  Yet each in turn delivered an injustice and looked away from the truth.

How do good people do bad things?

In 1960 Lee Harper wrote ‘To kill a mockingbird’ and everything you need to know about socially approved injustice is contained within that book.  Tom, the black labourer is accused of raping a white woman and is given a ‘fair’ trial by jury.  As the story unfolds it become obvious to everyone in the courtroom that her father beat her up when he found her flirting with a coloured man and in all probability her father had been sexually abusing her for years.

The punch to her eye was delivered by a left-handed blow.  Tom’s left arm hangs limp by his side, powerless due to an accident with a threshing machine.  Her father signs a paper with his left hand in full view of the court room.  As the evidence mounts there can be only one conclusion; Tom is innocent and the father guilty.  So the jury go out and the jury come back and each and every one of them finds Tom guilty as charged, because the cost of not doing so was too great.  They had to protect themselves from the reality that a white man could rape and assault his own daughter.  Everyone knew that a black man was no better than a beast.  To accept that Tom committed the crime was the only option.

The weakest are always sacrificed.  

Our regulatory bodies find themselves in this same moral dilemma.  Like a house of cards they all lean against each other, ICO backs up PHSO who defends the NHS.  In order to handle your complaint with any honesty they would have to report that people within these organisations blatantly lie, breach policy, withhold data and destroy records.  The price is just too high.  So they rubber stamp the garbled whitewash, agree that everyone has acted reasonably and go home to their families.




Fiona Watts interviews Della Reynolds – coordinator for phsothefacts

phsothefacts-logo-D3Q1.    Where and when was the Pressure Group formed?

A.  We first met as a group when twelve persistent complainants were invited to give evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) on 26th November 2013.  This was part of the PASC  inquiry ‘Complaints – do they make a difference?’  After we gave our evidence most of us met up again in the House of Commons cafe and it was there among the coffee cups that the Pressure Group was born.

 Q2.  Who suggested the formation of the group?

A.   While we were exchanging stories and email addresses, Lindsay Roy an MP from PASC, came down to see us.  He congratulated us on our calm presentation and suggested that we formed a Pressure Group.  As I already had the website phsothefacts.com I agreed to act as the coordinator.

Q3.  How many are in the group as of October 2014?

A.   The group consists of about 40 people right now.  New people join and others leave so it has stayed at this level for some time now.

Q4.  What have been the highlights so far?

A.   When PHSO agreed to hold a seminar for Pressure Group members this was a major breakthrough.  We had all been through the system and our files were stamped ‘do not acknowledge’.  It didn’t matter how many times we tried to tell them that they had got the facts wrong, the door was firmly shut.   Attending the seminar on 26th June 2014 was very emotional.  The raw pain of injustice soon surfaced and for once the Ombudsman staff could see the suffering of the people behind the data.

Q5.  Which Ministers or public servants are in a position to progress genuine improvements to the PHSO remit?

A.   It seems to me there is no political will to reform the Ombudsman.  The issues and flaws have been known in political circles for many years.  Every now and again there is an inquiry which blows a lot of hot air around, then it all settles down again, much like before.  In theory Oliver Letwin, Minister for Policy at the Cabinet Office is in a position to progress genuine improvements when he reports back on his inquiry into complaint handling and the Ombudsman landscape.  Will he bite the bullet and deliver a radically reformed service which actually protects citizens from the abuse of power?  We will have to wait and see.

Q6.  What are the shared issues that all members of the Pressure Group have in common?

A.  Injustice and a determination to fight it.  Most of the group members went to PHSO with NHS complaints.  It matters not whether your complaint was NHS or Parliamentary we have all been through the same system in much the same way.  Our stories are so similar that it has to be deliberate policy to close cases down in this way.  Firstly, when PHSO look at the evidence there will be unresolved discrepancies and contradictions in the accounts of the two parties.  Despite evidence to the contrary, PHSO will always accept the version supplied by the public body and decide that their account is ‘beyond question’.  They will simply skirt around or totally ignore any evidence which doesn’t match up to this version of events.  They will reword the account given by the public body in order to make their draft report, without asking to see any evidence of their claims.  Accepting on face value without any probing cannot be termed an ‘investigation’.  The draft report is often full of factual errors and assumptions accepted as truths.  The complainant may spend painstaking hours correcting this draft report only to find that the final report is virtually the same.  After the final draft is agreed the decision is set in stone.  You can ask for a review, but this is just an internal rubber stamp of the PHSO assessment.  Your case is now closed, ‘no acknowledgement’ is placed on your file and your only option is to go for judicial review.  Job done – next.

Q7.   Which issues could PHSO easily improve by this time next year?

A.  They could provide proper investigations, remedy and closure for historic cases.  People have waited a long time for the facts of their case to be fully investigated.  They want answers to questions and accountability for failings.  They want to identify where things went wrong for their loved ones so that it never happens again to another family.   Closure requires acknowledgement and remedy and PHSO have the power to provide this.  They have started assessing historic cases and hopefully by this time next year all members of the group will have the answers they have been seeking for such a very long time.

Q8.  What do you believe to be the greatest challenge for the future of PHSO?

A.  Political interference has always prevented PHSO from acting to protect the citizen rather than protect the government.  They may be called ‘independent’ but they work hand in glove with the Cabinet Office the Department of Health and the Treasury.  The Ombudsman herself, Dame Julie Mellor, is an establishment figure and all the real decisions are made behind these particular closed doors.  PHSO is just another part of the cover up culture used at will by the government of the day.

Q9.  You receive lots of positive feedback from the group, on average, how many hours do you tend to do behind the scenes?

A.  Not sure if the two parts of this question are related.  Firstly, on the subject of positive feedback, I think it has been of tremendous value to everyone, myself included, to be part of this group.  To realise that it is not your fault and that the system has conspired against you to shut out your complaint.  There is a great strength in sharing our stories and knowing we are not alone.  Also, since we have come together we have had a louder voice.  Doors at PHSO and Parliament have started opening to us.   We are being heard and hopefully, in the fullness of time, our words will trigger appropriate actions from those in authority.   How many hours?  Impossible to say.  I don’t do too much in the evening as I need to switch off, but other than that if I have the time there is always something which needs my attention.

Q10. Why do you do it?

A.  I guess I have a strong sense of injustice.  I also think that the people are the guardians of democracy.  Once we stop being vigilant then the elite rule with impunity.  It is easy to look the other way, to say, as so many do. that you can’t do anything to change the system.  I believe that collectively we have more power than we could ever imagine.  If enough of us stood together on a single issue we would frighten the life out of them.  We need to continually challenge acceptance of the status quo.