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Health ombudsman reopens complaints process to help NHS ‘learn Covid lessons’

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) has reopened its complaints process, after putting it on pause in late March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The ombudsman said it is ‘vital that we begin to learn from any mistakes made in the handling of the crisis’, and has encouraged the public to get in touch with the NHS with any concerns about the service they received, and to file a complaint with it, if the issue cannot be resolved through a local process.

People have approached the PHSO in recent weeks about having their cancer treatment cancelled and being given the wrong Covid-19 test results, it said. 

Ombudsman Rob Behrens commented: ‘Complaining when something has gone wrong should not be about criticising doctors, nurses or other frontline public servants, who have often been under extraordinary pressure dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. 

‘It is about identifying where things have gone wrong systemically and making sure lessons are learned so mistakes are not repeated.’

He repeated his calls for the Government to amend existing rules that prevent his office from launching investigations without first receiving a complaint. These are ‘powers available to most other national ombudsman around the world’ he said. 

The PHSO also urged the Government to share any potential plans for an inquiry into its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Commenting on the news, Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said: ‘GPs and their teams have been working incredibly hard during the Covid-19 crisis, transforming services to ensure safe access to care for patients who need it.

‘There will always be learning points – including what practices have done incredibly well and which should inform the way we continue to work. Of course there needs to be an avenue for complaints, which we would urge patients to raise directly with practices in the first instance.

‘Any negative experiences are of course regrettable, and feedback must inform learning rather than focus on individual blame or add further burden during what was an unprecedented situation for the health service.’ 

The ombudsman’s reference to cancelled cancer care comes as a quarter of GPs have seen cancer referrals inappropriately declined by trusts during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It also comes as the CQC has said it will restart routine inspections of GP practices this autumn, after pausing these during the Covid-19 emergency.

The GMC also intends to restart fitness-to-practise investigations this month, although it has deferred all revalidation for the rest of the year.