The Ombudsman – safe in her hands?


Admit only what is harmless – complaint handling mantra

On radio 4 this week it was revealed that Kim Philby, notorious traitor,  advised Soviet spies;

If confronted, never, ever confess.  “So my advice to you is to tell all your agents that they are never to confess.  If they are confronted with a photograph of themselves with a Soviet contact or a German contact – it’s a fake.  If they confront you with a report in your own handwriting – it’s a forgery.  Just deny everything.  Only admit what is harmless.  Admit anything you safely can, but deny that essential link with any foreign intelligence service, and you’re alright.”  The Philby Tape Radio 4

I guess that’s what you learn with an Oxbridge education.  In my humble comprehensive school we were taught to always tell the truth, to treat others as you wish to be treated and to trust in authority.  Consequently, when I complained to those in authority I expected them to deal with the evidence of wrong doing with robust integrity.  More fool me.

When public bodies mess up, the backlash should be felt in parliament where the poor decisions, lack of funding or ambiguous regulations were decided in the first place.  Rather than take the flak directly, parliament elects ‘arms length bodies’ to act independently as ‘regulators’ and ‘watchdogs’.  Bodies such as the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.  They are supposedly independent of politicians, but it is politicians who appoint them (under the guise of the Crown).

Philby was asked by the Soviet spies how he managed to get away with his treachery for so long.  His answer is quite revealing.

“There were many people in SIS who were involved in my recruitment into SIS and my promotion in SIS. Who had worked with me in SIS and given me a lot of information in SIS.  Those people would be very, very anxious personally to see me made innocent, including the Chief of the whole organisation who made me Head of his counter espionage department.”  The Philby Tape Radio 4

So politicians appoint a ‘safe pair of hands’, one of their own who knows that the primary objective is ‘never confess’ and at all costs they must protect those above.  In return they are given the protection of the state and if the seat becomes a little too hot then the revolving door of appointments allows the pressure to be released and normal service to be resumed.

On 29th March,  the Ombudsman, Dame Julie Mellor,  released a blog post reassuring all comers that they could be‘confident in our service’  confident-in-our-service  Spinning a tale of ‘external reviewers’ she gives the impression that all decisions are thoroughly checked by individuals independent of the service for their accuracy and sound decision making.

We have external reviewers to assess whether our decisions are sound and are the only ombudsman service to use this external mechanism.

Turns out that in 2014/15 there were only 4 external reviewers who handled just 13% of complaints about decisions and all complaints about PHSO staff were handled internally.  FOI – internal_and_external_case_reviewers  Smoke and mirrors.

There is also news here of the new Service Charter, a set of promises to reassure the public that cases are handled with robust consistency.

…the Charter is built on the principles of fair and transparent decision-making and the need to treat customers with courtesy and respect.

The only problem here is that there is no mechanism within the Charter to hold the Ombudsman to account if the delivery falls somewhat short of the promise, which it will under the present regime.

This FOI request confirms that in the business year 2015/16 PHSO  received 1,969 requests for a review from dissatisfied complainants.  That’s 38 requests a week and this figure excludes complaints made about PHSO service delivery.  FOI – number_of_current_cases review  Given that in 2014/15 PHSO reported on 4,159 cases – 1,969 review requests would give a dissatisfaction rate of 47%.  So what happened to all that external quality assurance?

Dame Julie’s glowing summary of robust case handling was released just a few days after the staff at PHSO took a vote of no confidence in senior management Times article – vote of no confidence and two days before the Deputy Ombudman, Mick Martin resigned due to being found complicit in a cover up.  Independent article – Mick Martin resigns.

Deny everything – never confess.

The truth is that only those who have no knowledge of the Ombudsman would have cause to be ‘confident’ in their service.  NHS staff, the Patients Association, complainants, the Health Select Committee and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs committee have all expressed the most severe doubts.   The Ombudsman herself should have resigned some time ago, but those who have to oust her are the very same as those who selected her.  They suffer the same dilemma as Philby’s boss.  Better to hang on and save face than do the right thing by the public.

So it is with great concern to see that the Chief Investigator role for the new ‘independent’ Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch  (HSIB) is to be appointed according to the approval of the Secretary of State for Health.

a Chief Investigator, to be appointed by the Authority subject to the approval of the Secretary of State and who may only be dismissed with the approval of the Secretary of State;  HSIB_directions

Another ‘safe pair of hands’ who will no doubt be schooled in the ‘never confess’ philosophy and so the game goes on….

First published by phsothetruestory.