Committee concerned over rise in complaints to the Ombudsman office and the pressure this may have on future Estimates
The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales reported a 75 per cent increase in complaints between 2011 and 2017, including a rise in the number of complaints against some NHS bodies.
Despite this the Ombudsman is seeking less money to investigate complaints in the next financial year than the last. The saving has been put down to, among other factors, efficiencies in pursuing complaints.
However, the Finance Committee of the National Assembly is concerned that an increase in NHS complaints indicates that service improvement is needed and if this is not forthcoming the likelihood is that NHS complaints could continue to rise year on year.
The Committee is concerned this could lead to pressure on the Ombudsman's staff and the possibility of a need to increase his budget in future years. In considering the Ombudsman's estimates for the next financial year, the Finance Committee heard that the introduction by some local bodies of improvement officers to investigate complaints and undertake stakeholder engagement had led to progress, particularly in relation to early resolutions for complaints.
Whilst the Committee was pleased this change was happening, it was concerned to hear that some public sector bodies who had struck early resolutions, then failed to fulfill their obligations, leading to further costs for the Ombudsman and the public purse.
As an example the Committee was told of a man who had agreed to accept an apology and a small compensation sum following an eye procedure, but despite numerous requests from the Ombudsman, the health board involved had not paid the compensation. As a result the Ombudsman issued a special report against the health board involved, resulting in more expense.
"The Committee commends the Ombudsman's prudent approach in the preparation of his estimates for the next financial year," said Simon Thomas AM, Chair of the Finance Committee.
"That some organisations are agreeing early resolution and then not fulfilling their obligations is disappointing. This has a knock-on effect on the Ombudsman's work, and the public purse, as more resources have to be applied to pursing a complaint.
"The increase in complaints over the last six years shows people are more aware of their rights and more confident in taking action if they feel they have been let down.
"We are encouraged by progress that has been made in the way some public bodies approach receiving complaints, which has led to a speedier, less stressful experience for everyone concerned.
"We would urge all public bodies to learn from this progress to improve their own complaints procedures."
The Public Service Ombudsman for Wales' Estimate will now be considered by the National Assembly for Wales, as part of the annual Budget Motion.
Read the full report:
Scrutiny of Public Services Ombudsman for Wales’s Estimate for 2018-19. (PDF, 2 MB)