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UK needs an ‘effective’ People’s Ombudsman – PASC

UK citizens ought to have access to a ‘People’s Ombudsman’ which should have powers to investigate problems in government departments, agencies and the NHS, a  report from the Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) has concluded. 

The ‘Time for a Peoples’ Ombudsman’ report also stated that the current Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO), which investigates complaints against the NHS and other government departments and agencies, is “outdated”. 

In its recommendations, PASC has suggested that the current “iniquitous restriction” on citizens’ direct and open access to PHSO, known as the “MP filter”, must be abolished. 

Additionally, PHSO must be able to receive complaints other than in writing: such as in person, by telephone or online, just as is expected of any normal complaints system; it should have “own-initiative” powers to investigate areas of concern without having to receive a complaint from a service user; and Parliament should strengthen the accountability of PHSO. 

Bernard Jenkin MP, chair of PASC, said: “We are publishing this report the day Parliament gets back, because this report is really addressed to MPs. We have to make these changes.  

“PHSO is part of our service to our constituents, and its way behind the times. As Dame Julie Mellor [Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman] has put it, there is a ‘toxic cocktail’ in respect of government’s complaints handling – a combination of the British reluctance or the inability to complain and a defensive rather than receptive attitude in public services – that is poisoning efforts to improve public services. An effective ombudsman service can help bring about the change in attitude, behaviour and leadership that we need. 

In the longer term, the report has concluded that there is scope to change the way that ombudsman services are delivered. It has also called for a consultation on the creation of a single public services ombudsman for England. And, at the same time, that there must be a distinctive ombudsman service for UK non-devolved matters. 

At the time of publication, PSE was still waiting for a reply from the Department of Health. 

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