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The Ombudsman’s Casework Report 2019

Executive summary

We make final decisions on complaints that have not been resolved by the NHS in England, UK government departments and other UK public organisations.

We look into complaints where someone believes there has been injustice or hardship because an organisation has not acted properly or has given a poor service and not put things right. We look into complaints fairly, and our service is free for everyone.

This first annual Ombudsman’s Casework Report highlights the breadth of cases we receive across our jurisdictions. It is only a small cross section of the cases we completed in 2019. The complaints presented here are typical of many of the complaints we see across our remit. They include complaints about government bodies and the NHS.

Unlike the usual casework reports that we lay before Parliament, the complaints included here are not thematic or related to a specific incident or body. Instead, these new annual Ombudsman Casework Reports will share some of our most significant findings from cases completed over the year. 

The cases in this report cover a wide range of areas including ensuring people receive the child support they are entitled to, the support of British nationals overseas, cancer diagnosis and providing appropriate and effective mental health treatment.

We hope that this report proves useful for relevant Select Committee Chairs to scrutinise departments about general issues of administration. In particular, where departments and their agencies have indicated they will take action to embed learning from the mistakes they made. This is highlighted in the recommendations in each summary.

We encourage public bodies to learn from the cases we have included, not just in terms of improving frontline services but also in their own complaint handling.
A more transparent Ombudsman service

This report is a significant part of our aim to be more transparent in our work. We are now publishing much more data about the complaints we receive. In December 2019, we published all the recommendations we made from April to June 2019. By April 2021, we will begin publishing the majority of our decisions anonymously.

We regularly publish reports that draw on themes in our casework. For example, in 2019 we published Missed Opportunities: what lessons can be learned from failings at the North Essex Partnership University NHS Trust

We will also shortly be publishing an insight report on how NHS organisations handle complaints, as part of our strategic commitment to improve frontline complaint handling. That report will highlight key themes from casework in this area and share insight from frontline staff, as well as advocacy organisations and people who use NHS services. 

We will publish this insight report alongside a consultation on a draft Complaint Standards Framework. This framework aims to set out a unified vision of good complaint handling for public services, beginning with the NHS. Our report will highlight how such a framework can make a difference, as well as the importance of investing in and professionalising staff who deal with complaints and feedback on the frontline. 

As the final stage in the complaints process, we do not see all the good examples of public service. There is no doubt that many people receive good service, whether this is from a local benefits team or a large hospital trust.  

Nonetheless, complaints are a vital source of learning. Public services should look at complaints openly and honestly and seek to use them to drive continuous improvement. As we publish more information about the complaints we see, we hope organisations can take the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others to ensure people get the level of service they are entitled to.