In 2013 we took a bold decision to change our service. Previously we only investigated cases where we were pretty sure there had been an administrative fault or a failure in service which had led to an injustice. Now we investigate complaints where there might have been these errors.
This means we now investigate ten times more complaints than we used to - a huge stretch for the organisation, and a huge challenge for our staff.
We provide final decisions on complaints - this is what we are here for. The fact is, each year about 4,000 to 5,000 individuals and families need us to make a final decision on their complaint following an investigation. This will either be to confirm that the care or service they received was as it should have been, or to highlight and press for remedy when it was not.
So in completing over 4,000 investigations last year into the organisations we oversee, we met the demand for our service.
There can be no doubt that we require, and are delivering, fundamental change across all parts of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman service. While we have met an important milestone of meeting demand for those services, we are now embedding our new ways of working. This will take time, and we need to progress in a measured way: delivering our role; providing better service; giving value for money; and providing clarity on our service and what we expect from our employees.
We have been evaluating everything we do and how we do it, from the way we explain our role to people and what they can expect from our service, to how we carry out our investigations and communicate our decisions. We are also evaluating how we measure the quality of our work and our decision-making.
There is a lot of confusion about our role, so to be clear:
- we investigate cases so that we can make decisions on complaints, not to make up for poor investigations at local organisation level;
- we press public organisations to learn from and improve their ways of working, we can't make that happen;
- we work hard to obtain a remedy for people when they have experienced injustice, we don't favour them when we are investigating their case or advocate for them, and
- we provide invaluable insight on things that keep going wrong, we don't provide solutions.
We recognise that our changes mean little if people are not confident that our ways of working produce sound decisions. This is particularly important, since in doing our job we often need to provide answers that conflict with people's sincere opinions and beliefs about what happened in their case.
So a key priority is to ensure, and demonstrate, that our methods and ways of working are robust, fair and consistent, and lead to sound decisions.
The number of people who come to us because they simply can't agree with their local service's decision on their complaint is increasing. That makes it even more imperative that we are clear about what our service can provide, show how we work, and do more to demonstrate the quality of our work.