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05.07.16

Health Services Ombudsman recommends joint role after resigning

A new Ombudsman role with responsibility for both health and local government should be created, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) has said as she resigned.

Dame Julie Mellor resigned yesterday and wrote to Bernard Jenkin MP, the chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC), suggesting he use her resignation as an opportunity to consider a joint appointment to the chair and ombudsman roles of the PHSO and the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO).

Mellor initially offered her resignation following allegations that her deputy Mick Martin, who has now resigned, assisted in covering up a sexual harassment case at Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust while he was a senior executive there.

Mellor says in her resignation letter that she made “mistakes” in the handling of correspondence about criticisms of Martin following the case. The PHSO board has commissioned an independent review into the case.

The boards of the PHSO and LGO held a meeting on 20 June, in which they agreed that a new Public Ombudsman Service covering both health and local government, which Mellor has endorsed before, was needed.

“In my view, it would be immeasurably easier for the two organisations to make progress if there is a joint appointment to the chair and ombudsman roles for both organisations,” Mellor wrote to Jenkin. “I hope you share this view and that my decision will create a timely opportunity for you and the government to consider a joint appointment to lead to the process of reform.”

In his response, Jenkin says Mellor’s resignation is “conscientious” and causes him “great sadness”. He thanks her for introducing “reform and change” to the role and developing a closer relationship with Parliament despite facing budget cuts.

On behalf of the PHSO non-executive board, Sir Jon Shortridge said: “We are very grateful to Julie Mellor for her contribution in leading the transformation of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. With her at the helm, the ombudsman service has opened its doors to more people than ever before, providing justice to the very many people who have been failed by public services.”

Mellor recently led the publication of a report highlighting the problem of unsafe discharge of elderly patients.

Patients Association says PHSO fails to fulfil role

However, Katherine Murphy, CEO of the Patients Association, called the PHSO “unaccountable, lacking integrity and worst of all, ineffective in instilling change”.

She said: “The PHSO’s cost to the public purse is around £40m a year, yet we have no idea how it really does its job. We don’t know what training their investigators get, we don’t know the questions they ask and we don’t know what, if anything, is achieved once their investigations are concluded.

“We need to look at what goes on inside the PHSO. The PHSO accountability has focused on finances and quantity of investigations, rather than delivering quality outcomes for grieving families.”

Murphy added that the change in leadership should be a chance to implement greater “independence and robustness” in the PHSO’s work.

4.45pm UPDATE

In response to Murphy's comments, a PHSO spokesperson said that the PHSO is accountable to the PACAC, publishes information about its processes on its website and receives an annual budget of £37m.

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