Advising with empathy and experience

'Ineffective' PHSO is 'failing families'.

The NHS ombudsman - the independent service which investigates patients' complaints - is "wholly ineffective and failing families”, The Patients Association lobbying group says.

In a new report, the charity says it receives weekly calls from people who feel let down by the service. Many say that the experience compounded the grief and hurt they were already feeling due to the loss of loved ones or poor NHS care.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) is meant to be the last resort for those complaining about unfair or poor service from the NHS in England.

The PHSO, which is currently undergoing a modernisation scheme, revealed last month that it had investigated 2,199 cases in 2013/14 - six times more than the previous year.

But writing in the report, Patients Association deputy chief executive Jacqueline Coles, said the PHSO had 'failed to adapt' to modern demands. As a result, the charity says that it will no longer be referring callers to the charity's helpline to the watchdog.

She said: 'For many years we have advised people who contact our national helpline to go to the PHSO when they have received an unsatisfactory response from their local health service providers.

'Sadly we can no longer recommend this course of action to patients, as we have no confidence in the PHSO to carry out an independent, fair, open, honest and robust investigation.

'It leaves the victims and families seeking help regarding health concerns cold, alone and frozen out. The PHSO fails them on a regular basis.'

The report cites the case of Sam Morrish, who died in 2010 from a treatable condition due to multiple health service failings. The three-year-old died 36 hours after his parents first sought medical help for suspected flu and a chest infection.

It took until 2014 for the PHSO to pronounce its findings. The ombudsman acknowledged that it had taken far too long to investigate the case.

Prolonged investigations, which rely on families to produce all the evidence, can lead to patients or their families having to give up their jobs to deal with the demands and inadequacies of the PHSO, the report says.

The ombudsman has said it is working to improve its service.