International Ombudsman organisations urge UK Government to review Ombudsman’s access to ‘safe space’

As ombudsman organisations from across the globe gather in Manchester this week, the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI) has ‘strongly endorsed’ support for the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) to have access to ‘safe space’.

Proposed new UK Government legislation in the form of the Health and Care Bill will exclude PHSO from access to ‘safe space’ information collected from NHS organisations by the Health Service Safety Investigations Body (HSSIB).

In October, the Venice Commission – an advisory body of the Council of Europe, of which the UK remains a member - reviewed the proposals in the Bill and found this would negatively impact on PHSO’s ability to investigate some complaints. It could also have a significant impact on patients and families who complain to PHSO and on people who use the NHS.

The Commission published an Opinion stating that PHSO’s access to information must be revised. In a statement supporting this view, signed by IOI President Chris Field, the IOI said the proposed legislation would contravene a United Nations Resolution which was co-sponsored by the UK Government. It would also breach the Venice Principles which are globally adopted, UN-endorsed principles for ombudsman organisations.

IOI European President and Greek National Ombudsman, Dr Andreas Pottakis, said:

While we agree with the Venice Commission rapporteur Sorensen that PHSO may be just a ‘casual victim’ of UK Government policy, the Venice Principles were created precisely to address this unwarranted attack on Ombudsman powers.

The IOI joins the Venice Commission and PHSO in urging the UK Government to reflect carefully on the published Opinion and to take urgent steps to amend the Bill to ensure that PHSO maintains unrestricted access to ‘safe space’ investigations in line with established good international practice.

Representatives from over 30 countries, including Canada, Hong Kong, South Africa and Ukraine, will convene in person and online, to discuss how ombudsman organisations can work more effectively to deliver justice to more people. Delegates will share vital learning from the pandemic to help strengthen the recovery of services internationally. A key focus will be sharing sector-wide best practice on reaching vulnerable and marginalised citizens through the provision of high-quality, modern ombudsman services.

Read the International Ombudsman Institute's statement in support of PHSO.