Patients Accuse Health Watchdog of Siding With the NHS

Over 200 patients and their relatives have accused the health watchdog body of taking the side of the NHS organisations during investigations following another recent National Health Service scandal.

A new report alleges that the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman is “defensive”, “secretive” and often adds to the distress felt by patients and families who have suffered due to actions of the health service.

Inadequate oversight?

The report by the Patients’ Association was put together after requests by NHS patients and their families who were furious about the way they had been treated by the PHSO, which was itself set up to look into complaints about poor service, medical negligence and unfair treatment.

This news comes hot on the heels of parents whose babies died at the failing University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust calling for the resignation of the Ombudsman over failures in the investigation into the affair and its refusal to admit mistakes.

A recent independent inquiry found that 11 babies and one mother died as a result of lethal failings in the maternity unit at Furness General Hospital, which it described as “seriously dysfunctional”. Parents told the inquiry that the Ombudsman had refused to look into the goings-on at Furness hospital.

The report compiled by the Patients’ Association revealed that:

•    Over 50% of patients thought that the PHSO took sides with whatever organisation it was investigating
•    Almost half felt it was not willing to challenge NHS bodies
•    There was a feeling that the Ombudsman did not investigate complaints in full
•    That the PHSO produced reports which were inaccurate
•    Patients often were made to feel that complaining was a nuisance

Families caught up in the situation in Morecambe Bay said that the independent inquiry into what happened in Furness hospital between 2004 and 2013 further highlighted the failings of the Ombudsman. The inquiry showed up failings at every level from entry level staff in the maternity level right up to people responsible for regulating the Trust which ran the Unit.
Some of the problems uncovered by the enquiry were poor levels of clinical skills, poor working relationships between different employee groups and failures on many occasions to investigate incidents and learn lessons from them.

The inquiry also suggested that midwives conspired to cover up problems after the deaths of babies.

Parents of some of the babies who died claim that the PHSO would not listen to their fears when they first raised concerns about poor standards of care at the hospital.

These findings are however contradicted by a report by Dr Kirkup, who said that midwives had indeed made a “significant and regrettable attempt to conceal” the truth about the death of one infant, and that staff members were able to “distort” the investigation which followed.

In response, the PHSO, said that since it appointed Julie Mellor to lead the organisation in 2012 it had taken steps to make improvements, including upping the number of investigations from hundreds to thousands.

The PHSO also acknowledged that in just over 50% of the cases investigated it was found that the NHS had acted correctly. That’s JUST 50%!!

The PHSO also said that it would look at the Patients’ Association report carefully, and also apologised for not investigating an individual complaint in 2009.

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