Today we publish our Annual Report 2018-2019. The report documents the major milestones we have met to make improvements to our service over the last year.
We have continued to listen and learn from stakeholders and have made significant progress in meeting the objectives of our three-year corporate strategy.
One of our most important performance achievements this year has been to remove the substantial queue of cases that were waiting for work to begin on resolving them.
At the same time as removing this queue, we have continued to invest heavily in caseworker training, and have designed and developed a ground-breaking Ombudsman accreditation programme for senior caseworkers. This has been described as ‘a model of good practice’ for the wider Ombudsman community.
Those who have brought complaints to us tell us that we have continued to perform well against a backdrop of organisational and process changes. We have also seen a reduction in the number of complaints we receive about our service.
Looking outwards and listening carefully
An important aspect of our continued development is to look outwards. We listened carefully to the experiences and views of those who use our service both as complainants and organisations complained about.
We have continued to engage with the organisations we investigate and have made significant steps towards the development of a new authoritative complaints framework for the NHS, which we will then develop for the wider public sector. I frequently meet staff at all levels in the health service, who tell me this initiative is essential and will help them improve complaint handling. It is long overdue. We continue to make the case for the Public Service Ombudsman Bill to include statutory powers in this area, as is the case in Scotland, when it is eventually introduced into Parliament.
We also shared good practice in complaint handling with international Ombudsman schemes and the sectors in which we work.
Seeking expert opinion
Over the course of the year, we have sought expert opinion from our peers on a range of issues.
At the request of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC), our Board commissioned an independent peer review to assess the value for money we provide in service delivery. Happily, the review found that we provide an important service that goes beyond investigating complaints. It also found that, as a result of strong leadership, a committed workforce and new ways of working, we offer good value for money to taxpayers and service users.
A review and public consultation enabled us to commission external examination about how we commission and use clinical advice in our health service casework. Sir Liam Donaldson, patient safety adviser at the World Health Organisation and former Chief Medical Officer, provided independent advice and valuable published recommendations for the review. I am grateful to Sir Alex Allan for chairing this important review with skill and integrity.
A continued focus on transparency
We continued to focus on the transparency of our service. A second open meeting took place in London, and included a moving and rigorous contribution from patient safety campaigner, James Titcombe.
We also produced further episodes of Radio Ombudsman, our regular podcast, with contributions from a range of interviewees. Guests included former Care Quality Commission CEO, Sir David Behan and European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly.
Improved staff engagement
We continued our work on improving staff engagement. This included working with staff to embed the values and behaviours that are essential to becoming an exemplary Ombudsman service.
We launched a new Equality, Diversity & Inclusion strategy with the aim of making the most of people’s unique backgrounds and experiences. The strategy will also help us to operate with integrity, respect and empathy for colleagues, complainants and organisations.
I am delighted that these initiatives have together resulted in a staff survey engagement score that is now above the benchmark for high performing Civil Service organisations.
The year ahead: Building trust and confidence
The achievements of this past year are encouraging, but we are not complacent about progress or the level of engagement with external stakeholders. We recognise there is still a good deal to be done to ensure that trust and confidence are experienced by everyone who uses our service.
This will be achieved by continuing to listen to those we serve. I am grateful to all my colleagues, executive and non-executive directors for their continued professionalism and commitment.