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The UK’s national Ombudsman calls on Government to learn from Covid-19 mistakes

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) is calling on the UK Government to give clarity about its plans for a robust and independent lessons-learned exercise into the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Ombudsman says that while it was right that we clapped for our NHS staff, carers and other frontline public servants, it is vital that we begin to learn from any mistakes made in the handling of the crisis. To inform his future work and that of other bodies, he has written to the Government asking it to share its thinking about the scope of any future inquiry and other reviews that it plans to establish.

Ombudsman Rob Behrens has emphasised that any review or national inquiry should reflect the real experiences of those who used public services, including the NHS, during the pandemic. He is encouraging people to feed back to the NHS and other public bodies if they have concerns about the service they received and bring their complaint to PHSO if it is not resolved by the local complaints process.

Ombudsman Rob Behrens said:

‘Complaining when something has gone wrong should not be about criticising doctors, nurses or other frontline public servants, who have often been under extraordinary pressure dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. It is about identifying where things have gone wrong systemically and making sure lessons are learned so mistakes are not repeated.’

Complaint handling during the pandemic

PHSO paused its work on NHS complaints on 26 March to enable the NHS to focus on tackling the Covid-19 pandemic. The Ombudsman announced he is reopening this part of his service today (1 July) for new health complaints. He will also begin to progress his existing health casework.  

Emerging complaint themes that people have approached the Ombudsman about in recent weeks include concerns raised about cancelled cancer treatments and people being given the wrong Covid-19 test results.

PHSO can also look into complaints about government bodies such as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), where people may have concerns about their experiences accessing benefits, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where there have been concerns raised in the media about the support available at the start of the pandemic when they tried to return to the UK. The Ombudsman has not paused work on Parliamentary complaints and continues to work on these as normal.

The importance of complaining

Rob Behrens went on to say that:

‘Despite my repeated calls since taking office, the Government has failed to provide me with the powers available to most other national Ombudsman around the world to launch an investigation without first receiving a complaint.

‘It’s really important, therefore, that if people have concerns about the service they have experienced they do complain to the public body and then come to my office if needed. Otherwise other people may experience the same failings.’