The performance and powers of the Health Service Ombudsman have been under fire for failing to investigate circumstances surrounding some deaths. Dame Julie Mellor (who took up the role in January) has not hidden from criticisms but has instead responded by revealing her four objectives:
- To broaden the scope of the regulator’s investigations into complaints about health treatment by probing systemic failings within NHS bodies. Currently the Ombudsman can only investigate matters the complainant has directly mentioned. Parliamentary approval would be required to “expand the scope” of the body’s investigations into wider systematic issues
- To conduct an external review into how the regulator handles cases of potentially avoidable deaths. This will be led by Baroness Rennie Fritchie, chair of 2gether Foundation, Gloucestershire. The review’s remit would be to improve the service offered by the Ombudsman to complaints and provide better information for sector and professional regulators
- To improve the office’s ability to share information with Coroners and other regulatory bodies such as the Care Quality Commission
- To offer advice to people about NHS procedures and prompt action where there is particular concern about a unit in a hospital by developing a phone advice hub modelled on the Financial Services Ombudsman’s system. This could act as an early warning system if it receives a cluster of calls about a particular unit
Dame Julie’s desire to meet these objectives lies in her commitment to feed back into the system lessons learnt. She is quoted as saying: “Where there is service failure as serious as an avoidable death, behind that is probably some poor supervision or bad system or procedures relating to how some service is operating….That is why I want to widen the scope [of investigations] so I can feed those lessons back into the system”. It is felt information could be shared with sector regulators.