Meet the Ombudsman: Annual Open Meeting 2018

London, 22 May 2018


Our second open meeting was attended by over 130 delegates, including a diverse mix of complainants, complaint handlers and representatives of national bodies.   

The meeting followed the launch of our new three-year strategy.


The day began with a series of presentations starting with the the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s Chief Executive, Amanda Campbell, who spoke about how over the last 12 months we have been on a journey to improve the quality and consistency of our service, while at the same time having to make demanding 24% reductions to our budget. 

She described how the complaints we investigate are often seen through very different lenses as to what went wrong and why, but added that we all share the same concerns about our National Health Service. 

Amanda also discussed the importance of preserving our independence and impartiality. She explained how we are moving towards publicising all our investigation reports online, adding that everybody will have to understand that whatever they say or provide as evidence would then be in the public domain.

Amanda was followed by a very powerful speech from James Titcombe, father of Joshua and now a patient safety campaigner. James talked passionately about the need to fully understand and learn from serious incidents.

'We need an NHS where we don’t blame people for human error but we do act quickly. We need to separate complaints from serious patient safety incidents, which shouldn’t be going through the complaints system.’

James Titcombe

Attendees also heard from government complaints champion and HMRC Customs Director General Customer Services, Angela MacDonald. She spoke of the value of having the organisation’s best people working in complaint handling, and the importance of acknowledging that as complaint handlers, while you won’t always make all your customers happy, you can treat everyone with dignity and respect. She also advised against setting complaints reduction targets and stressed the importance of focusing on communicating well.

After a quick coffee break, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Rob Behrens addressed the room.

Rob shared his vision for delivering an exemplary ombudsman service by returning the organisation to its core role. He said that although it was now time to focus on the future, there were big historic legacies which have undermined public trust in our service. He said there was no ombudsman golden age and no blueprint for how ombudsman schemes should operate. 

He told the audience that you cannot be an ombudsman without being independent and that as the Ombudsman we have to be impartial to those in jurisdiction, which also means we cannot be the people’s champion.

Rob talked about some of the ways we are making progress against our strategy, through, for example, the production of insight reports such as our recent publication on mental health. 

He also talked about how we want to use our unique role in examining complaints from across health and government systems to promote and share best practice.

Q & A session

The afternoon featured a lively questions and answers session, expertly facilitated by our senior non-executive Board member, Elisabeth Davies. The panel included the opening speakers and Bernard Jenkin MP, Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. There were challenging questions from a good cross section of the audience, with complainants passionate about changes they want to see. Those delegates attending from health and government bodies spoke of the professional service they receive from PHSO colleagues.

We live streamed the speeches and the Q&A session on the day. You can can watch it here:

Meet the Ombudsman, Annual Open Meeting 2018: London Live Stream

Optional breakout sessions

The day concluded with two breakout sessions to discuss ‘improving complaint handling’ and ‘early and alternative dispute resolution’, each a key aspect of our new strategic plan. These sessions were not live streamed, but a fuller summary of the ideas discussed in these sessions will be published on this page shortly.

1. Innovation and good practice in public sector complaint handling: the journey to better service

Our new three-year strategy makes a commitment to support the organisations it investigates to improve complaint handling and increase the resolution of complaints at a local level through tools, training and guidance. We are also taking significant steps to improve our own complaint handling. 

This session asked what innovation and good practice looks like in the public sector and included short presentations followed by 30 minutes of panel and audience discussion. 

The session featured speakers from the health service and government sector who shared their examples of good complaint handling and talked about how their organisations have improved their complaint services. 

Andrew Medlock, Assistant Director of Customer Experience from PHSO, was joined by David Heap, Patient Complaints Manager at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Sidonie Kingsmill, Customer Director at HM Courts and Tribunals Service, and the session was chaired by PHSO’s Alex Robertson, Executive Director External Affairs and Insight.

2. Alternative dispute resolution in the public sector: expanding the Ombudsman’s toolbox for resolving complaints

As part of our new strategy, we are exploring how to expand our toolbox for resolving complaints beyond formal investigations. Learning from good practice in the wider ombudsman sector, we will pilot the use of alternative dispute resolution methods, ranging from early complaints resolution to formal mediation.

This session explored how alternative dispute resolution works in practice as well as its limitations through short presentations and a panel discussion. The session was chaired by Warren Seddon, PHSO’s Director of Public Affairs and Insight and the panel featured Chris Pinnell, Head of the Assessment and Resolution Team at the Office of the Independent Adjudicator; Carys Williams, Assistant Investigation Manager for the Complaints Advice Team at the Public Service Ombudsman of Wales; and Rachael Russell, Head of Customer Services, Intake and Customer Care at PHSO.