The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
Millbank Tower

The PHSO: set up to investigate ‘maladministration’; newly defined by the Ombudsman Dame Julie Mellor as “to investigate complaints that individuals have been treated unfairly or have received poor service from government departments and other public organisations and the NHS in England“.

The PHSO as it is now apparent to me, is itself a mal-administered body designed to ‘independently’ protect Parliamentary and NHS interests from criticism and, in the process, further damage and destroy trust and confidence in systems purportedly there for citizens’ benefits. Whatever the Ombudsman’s definition of “treated unfairly” and “poor service” is however, it does not however cover injury and death as a result of failures, and the resultant cover-up of negligence.

Whilst the PHSO is ideally situated to investigate, collate and act on all the patterns of failure from personal experiences related to them as the ‘gold-dust’ which could help pave the way for, or in fact pay for, improvements, it showed to me the same incompetence, contempt and lack of understanding that caused the original harm. As far as I was concerned as a complainant—as a Customer with a Service complaint—that gold dust was wasted.

I now know that young patients have been similarly failed and, similarly, have died. Had the PHSO acted quickly on this case there might have been young persons alive today and undergoing effective or at least stabilising treatments for mental illness, with a good chance of having a normal life and contributing to the economy through jobs with understanding employers.

One has to be aware of the minefield to be negotiated of approaching the Ombudsman for redress, because the route is hard, the rules arcane and unfit for purpose. Activity by various pressure groups has been highlighting the problems to Parliament through proper and legal approaches. One of these groups ‘phso – the facts’ gives a good account of the problems, and this is well worth noting before approaching the PHSO. You might find that the PHSO’s ‘agenda’ is not in line with your own expectations. You will need help.

To complicate matters, you will have no idea of the rules which will be applied to your simple complaint, to ensure that (a) there will be a rule to counter whatever you claim and (b) you will not know the rules until you fall foul of them: by which time it will be too late because of the overriding rule that you only get one stab at it. At no time will you be informed of these “Rules”. And there are NO explanations… so don’t ask. If you really want to ask about the Rules, you might do well to use the ‘What do they know’ public web site where many ‘complainants’ and others have their questions to public bodies. A search through the questions asked of the PHSO will be an education, to say the least.

This means that if for any reason you don’t hit the ground running (yes, even e.g. after your child has just died) with all the information about the complaint and various failures straight away (and yes, there’s a deadline – and it is also most unlikely that the NHS will cooperate with you in revealing what should have happened), you are pretty much doomed to failure.

If you are not happy you can ask for a review of the decision, but the Ombudsman will not collect or validate any evidence in favour of your claim  – he or she will just check that their “Process” was followed.

After a time you might discover what you were never told by the NHS or other body, and you find the evidence you needed to help secure the case. You might assemble that evidence and send it off to the PHSO with good expectation of a review. Do not expect a reply however because your case is Closed and your new submission will at best only be scanned by an untrained case worker unfamiliar with Laws, Acts, medical procedures etc.; and it will be rejected because you have Had Your Decision. Unlike legal systems, new or late evidence “makes no difference”.

There is a much ‘promoted’ option if you are not happy with the PHSO. You can ask for (i.e. pursue privately at your own risk and expense of legal assistance) a “Judicial Review”. Some have tried this but most have failed because of another rule “The PHSO is always correct” when it follows its own Rules, no matter how inadequate. The PHSO does not do ‘reasoning’, and the particular skills required for that in a medical context are not in the caseworkers job description.

As I stated, you will need help to prepare your case for the PHSO possibly taking advice from those who have tried before. I did not get help in assembling my case: I thought it was clear-cut. After I had received the biassed, unintelligible and garbled rubbish that was their response, I needed help: medical help.

Do not expect sympathy from the PHSO whether you have lost money,  benefits or family members due to failing government services; and do not expect any consideration of your ability, or disability, in obtaining information, putting together your case, or suffering the negative if not taunting PHSO responses. It’s a cold dispassionate service preventing common benefit from peoples’ experiences (e.g. with NHS), excusing negligence on the slightest ill-researched grounds and practically of nil benefit to change systems for the better. Like their own system, for instance.

This has been the status-quo through at least two Ommudsman leaderships: A. Abraham and J. Mellor. As of mid-2017 there is a chance that the new Ombudsman R Behrens can actually make a difference and stop this madness. Through the interest group a number of people who have suffered similarly have come together under a hard-working and seemingly tireless leadership of another ‘dissed’ complainant, to approach the PHSO for answers, and for change – not least in reaching understanding and resolution in a growing number of outstanding cases.

If you are affected by the PHSO responses you have received, look up the website and see if there’s any resonance with your case. A number of problems have been identified and many people find it useful to talk to others who have suffered similarly.

A new development (July 2017) is the hint of an offer by Behrens to talk about difficulties, as part of an approach by phsothefacts. This is yet to materialise, but some members have summarised their problems, ideas, questions in letters to the PHSO; and again they wait…

I have tried to make complaints about PHSO injustices and the poor attitude to their own maladministration: mere discrepancies such as overriding UK Law on treatment of Disability, for instance; and the PHSO’s idea that it’s entirely their discretion to allow their ‘Customer Services’ -a very loose and taunting description- to investigate the complaints about themselves. As an example see the last response to me from PHSO “Customer Services” in the Blog section.