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Working together to investigate health and social care complaints

Focus report: learning lessons from complaints

This review offers an overview of the first year’s activity of our Joint Working Team, which was set up in 2015 as a response to the challenges of investigating and remedying complaints which span services delivered by both the health and social care sectors.

The fragmentation within these sectors and the complexity of the way in which services are often delivered, has been well-documented. It follows that bringing a complaint when such services fail can be both confusing and time-consuming for individuals, who may already be suffering considerable stress as a result of the injustice they believe they have suffered.

The Joint Working Team is made up of investigators from both the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) and the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO). They are trained to work on both health and social care investigations, rather than in only one sector as they would have done previously. This enables a more streamlined investigative approach which provides a single point of contact for both the complainant and the organisation being complained about.

The results, to date, have been encouraging. These cases are often complex and can involve a number of different organisations. They require thorough investigation and can take some time to complete. Even so, we are also starting to see a reduction in the overall time taken to resolve complaints. The team has now been made permanent so we can continue to learn from these new ways of working and ensure the benefits of this approach are fully realised.

This report illustrates those benefits and provides examples of some of the cases we have investigated throughout that year. It is clear that they would have been more difficult to conclude effectively if we had adopted a more traditional ‘one investigator for one sector’ approach.

The Joint Working Team has, therefore, succeeded in making it simpler to bring and investigate a complaint within the health and social care sector. However, we recognise this approach has its limitations and can only be a sticking plaster response to patching up a system in which the cracks are visible. Wholesale reform is needed to enable us to operate in a way that reflects the increasing integration between health and social care services.

Legislation is the only option. We are delighted, therefore, that it is now Government policy to integrate LGO and PHSO into a new, single Public Service Ombudsman and draft legislation was published on December 5. We have been working with the Cabinet Office to ensure that our many years of experience of investigating and remedying complaints informs the development of legislation and we shall continue to do so.

Of course, this is only one step on the journey towards creating a Public Service Ombudsman. It remains to be seen when legislation will be introduced formally in Parliament and a bill finally becomes law. However, we are optimistic that this will be achieved, as a clear and simple route to redress is what the public rightly deserves.