Today PHSO publishes its 2019-20 Annual Report. This is the second year of delivering a three-year strategy and the Report highlights the significant strides we have made towards meeting our objectives.
The progress we have made is due largely to a continued focus on developing the skills and professionalism of PHSO staff, combined with an emphasis on seeking expert opinion and challenge. The training opportunities available to staff have expanded, helping develop important skills to meet new quality standards and measures for casework.
This approach is guided and facilitated by a new team dedicated to quality and improvement.
In casework, we continued with the principle of ‘the right decision at the right time’, making increasing numbers of decisions without the need for a detailed investigation.
This brought about faster responses for complainants. One team was also trained in mediation techniques, enabling them to facilitate conversations between complainants and organisations. These have helped to rebuild relationships that could otherwise have broken down.
These organisational developments have been complemented by additional independent advice and feedback. In October 2019 I created an Expert Advisory Panel, which is already making an important contribution to improving service quality and increasing the impact of casework.
Increasing our impact
To increase the impact of our service, we are publishing greater numbers of case summaries and engaging with stakeholders and the wider public. In October 2019, we held our third Annual Open Meeting, and in February 2020 I published my first Annual Casework Report, which illustrated the breadth of PHSO’s casework involving Government departments and agencies.
A key initiative for PHSO was the development of a draft Complaint Standards Framework for the NHS. This was the result of extensive engagement throughout the year with NHS staff, advocacy groups, regulators and other stakeholders. The draft Framework is now open to public consultation and your views are welcome.
PHSO continued to make an active contribution to the international ombudsman community, through the International Ombudsman Institute and the European Ombudsman Network. We led on developing Guidance on conducting Ombudsman Peer Reviews and contributed to the development of The Venice Principles on the Protection and Promotion of the Ombudsman Institution, the new European benchmark for ombudsman independence and effectiveness. These Principles will play a key role in the development of PHSO over the next decade.
Responding to COVID-19
From early March 2020, along with the rest of the nation, PHSO faced the challenges presented by COVID-19. To avoid placing additional burdens on the NHS at a time of national emergency, and after careful consultation, we took the decision to pause the consideration of health complaints. This was resumed at the beginning of July.
With outstanding work across the organisation, including the technology, security and facilities teams, PHSO went from a minority of staff able to work remotely, to almost all equipped to work from home within a few weeks. PHSO colleagues responded positively and professionally to the changes, continuing to work hard to resolve and progress casework where possible, and to maintain a full helpline service throughout.
Looking to the months ahead, we recognise that health and Government organisations will remain under pressure as they consider how to deal with the ongoing pandemic, as well as post-pandemic service recovery.
There are many challenges ahead. But as this Annual Report illustrates, my colleagues at PHSO, executive and non-executive, have the professionalism and resilience to make sure the organisation plays its part in addressing these challenges. I thank them for their commitment and contribution.