Have your say

What makes a good service charter?

Many other organisations have service charters in place, and we have looked at examples of these, including the charters of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), and the Scottish Public Service Ombudsman.

We found that a service charter is most successful when it:

  • is based on a real commitment to put it into practice
  • reflects the responsibilities of the organisation
  • includes timescales so people know what to expect
  • draws on the opinions of people who use the service, and involves them in any changes to the charter
  • helps staff to be clear what the charter means in their day-to-day work, their role in it, and how they can continue to record feedback from customers
  • monitors and makes sure that the standards the charter sets are being met, and everyone is clear about whether or not the organisation is adhering to its promises
  • lets customers know what their options are if they are still not happy with the service they have received from us

Our draft service charter has been created with this knowledge in mind, and has been structured on what participants in our surveys have said are relevant and important.

Fill in our survey.

Your chance to comment

We will ask people their views on this draft charter until Wednesday 13th January 2016, and will create a final draft service charter based on analysis of this feedback. We will then test our performance to make sure we can meet the promises we have made in the charter. We expect to be able to show that we are doing what we promise by summer 2016.

41 thoughts on “Have your say

  1. Jill Mizen

    I am a member of PHSO the Facts Pressure Group and support recent comments and suggestions submitted about the general concern that this charter is too bland and does not give any specific detail of the ‘how’ questions. Also, there is no mechanism for holding the Ombudsman to account according to the charter.

    Since 2007, I have followed the NHS complaints procedure it has not displayed the actions of an independent body, the “Principles for Good Complaint Handling”have not been followed. Therefore, the proposed charter is viewed with scepticism, and is suspected to be only more meaningless words.

    Face-to-face meetings at each stage of the complaints procedure would be beneficial, to ensure misunderstandings do not lead to a loss of trust. It would also be of benefit for NHS complainants to have the support of an independent clinical adviser from the beginning, to liaise with the medical profession.

    Action is needed to ensure complaints are used to improve service provision by being corrective and not punitive. Currently, the main concern dealing with complaints appears to be compensation and a scheme needs to be made available for service providers to cover the cost of their failure when due to genuine mistakes.

    For those following the NHS complaints procedure, when medical professionals make genuine mistakes a fair financial remedy should be paid dependent on injury. It should be made clear at the outset that the total amount payable following the complaints procedure is capped, this would be more likely to lead to local resolution of complaints.

    For those seeking sums of compensation outside the financial limits, the legal route would have to be followed.

    In cases of negligence/cover-up the matter should be dealt with in liaison with the police.

    External auditors need to ensure the National Archive guidelines for retention of complaint papers is complied with, and that complaints are investigated, recorded and reported accurately.

    It took from 2008 until 2015 for Dame Julie Mellor to advise the PHSO was an Adjudicator not a Regulator and could not take action on the non-personal aspects of my complaint. Leaving the medical profession to face unnecessary complaints and as confirmed by NICE, patients to suffer “dangerous neglect”.

    Sadly, allowing a meaningless complaints procedure to continue, means unscrupulous doctors like Harold Shipman are a law unto themselves. Whilst successive governments allow this farce to continue they are complicit, condoning murder.

    Action needs to be taken to provide an Ombudsman procedure fit for purpose, otherwise a total waste of tax-payers money.

  2. john bannon

    A load of repetition of the tired, insincere, meaningless and duplicitous PR pap and balderdash to the affected masses, while all the time masquerading as being transparent.

    PHSO can not fool all of the people all of the time. PHSO leopard never changes its’ spots.

  3. James

    Judging by the comments below it shows clearly what is wrong, there is not one response from a Organization or Public Body who form part of the understanding of the Service Charter and are stakeholders far too often people vote with their silence they clearly have no interest in what the PHSO are doing or Going to do and it speaks volumes ( perhaps a quantitative research of the replies may be of interest)
    The Draft Service Charter only illustrates the desperation Organizations have arrived at this ( as in the PHSO) is further reinforced by the very scrutiny by Parliament that is also tasked with Championing the very same Service that only facilitates a reactionary and not a progressive process.

  4. jacqui Butterworth

    The PHSO needs do research into ME/Lyme disease as there are a lot of people that are being ignored by the medical profession. People are dying from Lyme disease and co infections (borrelia, babebsia, bartenella etc) because of lack of doctors being trained in recognising what is a devastating illness patients suffer for years-a great many commit suicide including doctors themselves because of the disabling pain that can lead to severe arthritis, neurological problems and the lack of understanding by doctors.

  5. LC Jackson

    According to your own annual report, 55% of complaints were not even partly upheld in 2014-15. Given the barriers to making a complaint this tells you all that you need to know about the service.

    The bland and dismissive letter I received at the end of the 2-month process completely ignored several key facts and arguments on my initial application form. During what passed for an “investigation” the case worker accidentally rang my mentally ill relative, whose lack of treatment was the very subject of my complaint!

    I found the whole process very disheartening and decided not to use the appeals procedure. Instead I linked up with this campaign for PHSO reform http://phsothefacts.com/.

  6. Stuart Finch

    The Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman has repeatedly failed to hold NHS hospitals and Clinical Commissioning groups to account and failed to find me any kind of resolution which has contributed to my continued suffering over 20 years the PHSO has failed to respond to very specific new evidence which contradicts the medical reports that they produced to dismiss my case and with this gives the Green light to NHS collaboration, discriminatory illegal treatment rationing, tactical misdiagnosis, stealth markitisation and fragmentation of services. The failure of the PHSO to give a full and proper evidenced based investigation has left me and my young shocked at how educated professionals in positions of power can lie and have no measure of integrity, when me and my young family have always tried to be honest kind and empathetic I am disgusted on how the Government allow this to continue

  7. james kennedy

    I feel this draft charter is a total waste of time. I waited over a year to have my complaint looked at, and the Ombudsman wasted all this time with no reason ever provided.

    All the evidence I have provided has been dismissed for one reason or another, the comments i made about the draft report were ignored, some of my original complaint was ignored as it came under ‘things we can’t investigate’. there are contradictions throughout the final report and inaccuracies.

    What an appalling waste of time and money, not to mention offensive. The ombudsman has done absolutely nothing at all to help me or to suggest any way forward that the department should improve.

    In some ways, I feel lucky at least I was just verbally abused and denied treatment. On the forums and in real life, I have met people who have to live with deaths caused by negligence and surgery that has gone wrong and they agree with me, that both the ombudsman and doctors all team up to protect each other. Disgusting.

  8. Peggy Banks

    I have found the PHSO a complete waste of time and effort as it only looks for ways to dismiss the complainant. The service charter is another pr waste of public money and should not be allowed. The service charter and everything else online is only a reaction of pr to keep up appearances. It is ridiculous that the PHSO say they are reforming and learning. WHAT! The only reforming the PHSO are up to is new ways to keep up the charade to collude with those who cause problems.

    • jacqui Butterworth

      I agree Peggy-wasted two years complaining , writing letters, sending info-they were no help at all. I believe the main headquarters are based in a beautiful building where I suppose a lot of their funding goes on. The two women that dealt with my case were middle class/upper class and had no knowledge of ME/Lyme disease.

  9. EducatedJustice

    Until I came across other PHSO complainants, I thought I had been singularly unlucky in dealing with obstructive and ignorant PHSO staff. I then found out, my experience was common, even down to exact tactics and stock phrases used by PHSO, tricks to avoid considering evidence and utterly shocking denial or lack of response to cast iron proof in complainants favour. It’s about a lot more than just poor remit, it’s lack of accountability, “wide discretion” that is being abused left, right and centre and deliberate tactics which are clearly cultural throughout the organisation, to manage complainants away. Having evidence of collusion with NHS, it sticks in my gullett that DJM has the gall to proclaim intense dissatisfaction about NHS complaints handling when PHSO is complicit in the same problem. If you do get an independent adviser, you will be lucky if they have the right expertise to comment on your case, you’ll be even luckier if PHSO provides all the evidence and information to said adviser and does not cherry-pick to strengthen the body’s case and downright struck gold if the whole effort is not one more sham paper exercise intended to be biased towards the body from the off. There is just too much to list about the shocking behaviour of PHSO and her staff, but I have written evidence of misconduct, fraudulent use of public funds for mock investigations, collusion with the body, wilful ignoring of multiple evidence and plain ineptitude. PHSO in it’s current format should be disbanded and a new working body replace it with a remit to correctly investigate so-called historic complaints that were mishandled by PHSO in the first place.

  10. Peggy Banks

    I found myself puzzled as to why I was ever referred to the PHSO as I was not involved with the investigation, and a decision was made, including mistakes that seemed deliberate with a refusal to correct. An opinion was taken from someone I did not meet, and for all I know does not exist, this was done twice. Clearly I was injured and clearly no one at all wants to help even though it meant I lost my job. Keep on reading about mistakes meaning there is some learning, but no one wants to learn anything, there is just a desire to pass complainants around until the system hopes they will tire, if they don’t they are labelled vexatious. Found it an awful experience that has just added to my ordeal. Sadly there is only a wish to comply with the system of closing ranks and covering up.

  11. lorna swanton

    I can’t understand why the basics such as a timescale for dealing with an issue are even given

    No complaints system can be improved if the customer services section refuses to give an indication of when your case will be dealt with

  12. John Rudkin

    My experience with the PHSO is regrettably consistent with the views expressed in the PatientsAssociation press release of March 15th :

    The PHSO investigation into my complaint (when my case was overlooked – as admitted by Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust) demonstrated egregious lack of professional diligence, untruthfulness and inaction.
    of professional diligence

  13. Rosemary Cantwell

    23 March 2015
    Dear Dame Julie Mellor, Ombudsman, and Mr Turner MP for the Isle of Wight, PASC,
    I am impressed by you personally wishing to sweep with a broom the old ways of the PHSO. However you are constrained by a creaking system that simply does not provide a sense of fairness or justice to those who feel that their complaints have not been handled adequately at First Round Local Resolution.
    In your UCL speech in April 2013 which I saw on vimeo only a couple of days ago, I saw you speak with verve and passion and I really believe you want to make a difference.
    What concerns me most is that you have identified very clearly what is wrong with the system but even now almost 2 years after you have delivered that keynote address, nothing has been done by the legislators to alter the remit of the PHSO to make it totally user-friendly. This is why people are so upset that it is so frustrating to be pushed from pillar to post and not have the faintest idea of what is going on because the complainant is not actually at the heart of the “ombudsman” negotiations which as I understand it is supposed to assist by negotiation and mediation. It seems from my own experience that the complainant is totally excluded from this process whereas I believe that there should be a meeting of minds and try to bring together the complainant with the authority being complained about at a very early stage so as to try and find a happy solution for everyone.
    It has got to the point where people take Judicial Review against the Ombudsman then it shows that the system truly has broken down.
    Currently I am in the middle of a review but it was not until I met with your excellent care customer team under Annette and Anne that I felt that I was actually being believed and understood at all by the PHSO.
    So I really do believe that there are signs of a renaissance but unless the entire system is changed, I fear that there will be miscarriages of justice as you need to be able to have people who understand the legislation or medical issues or whatever as the mainplank of your casework team.
    Thank you very much.
    Yours sincerely,
    Rosemary Cantwell

  14. Elizabeth Harwood

    It is of prime importance that all MPs are made aware of the services of the PHSO. Although my complaint about a government department was being handled via my MP when that department failed to give honest answers to my queries (all done through my MP) he said he could do more and tried to pass me down the ‘food chain’ to a pensioners association. It was only through my own perseverance – despite the stress that I was under – that I found out that the PHSO existed.

  15. Janet

    They’re independent, they keep repeating. Yes their adjudications are supposed to be, but that’s all. PHSO must remember they exist primarily for the benefit of the complainant / public. Indeed the very organisations they investigate also exist to serve the public. Work flows in one direction only. The public complain about organisations, not the other way round.

    With that in mind they need to think and act in the best interests, and on behalf of complainants only. The independent part should only factor in to ensure that whilst fighting to correct injustices, they refer to the relevant reference guidelines and policies.

    The current setup is an inherent conflict of interest. There should be at least 3 parties involved, an investigator for the complainant, and caseworker assigned to the complained about organisation to defend the allegations, and the ombudsman/committee who reviews the evidence from both sides.

    Right now one caseworker is judge, jury, prosecutor, and defense, all in one!

  16. Arnuald

    should set up a permanent committee /panel made up of previous complainants and general public to give ongoing feedback (not just one off consultations or asking them individually). they always engage with public departments to talk, like the nhs or other regulators, and sign MOUs with them on cooperation.

    thats totally fine, but if the ombudsman has formal relationships with these organisation it should also have formal relations with complainants and the public. its because theyre supposed to be independent, which means taking the view of both sides.

  17. Carrie

    Financial payouts not according to legal system. They’re supposed to remedy injustice according to relevant guidelines and policies as a benchmark, but mostly just come up with their own lower figure. Means people end up having to take legal action after phso, which delays the injustice when it could’ve just been sorted out in one go.

  18. Harriet J.

    Another common issue is they dont know if the department being investigated is omitting information or doctoring records before giving them to the PHSO. Read some articles on cases like this.

    But the PHSO dont have forensics people and dont scrutinise what they receive. If a department wanted to hide mistakes its very easy, with so many cases where they just said they cant find the records or whatever.

    If the tax authority (HMRC) was investigating tax evasion and you say you’ve lost the accounting records, they would be suspicious. Usually if you can’t produce the accounts they assume wrongdoing, or at the very least they’ll dig deeper.

    PHSO though wouldn’t care. If some NHS trust said they lost medical records, PHSO will tell complainant there’s nothing they can investigate. How about using their ‘powers of high court’ to look closer and make a real effort ?

  19. Robert

    If you complain to the NHS, your case is allocated an Investigator who’s usually a senior Nurse or Doctor in that specialty.

    If you’re not satisfied with the outcome you can bring it to the PHSO, who allocate a case worker with no medical experience or qualifications.

    Why is the Investigator in the 1st tier of the complaints process more qualified than the Investigator in the 2nd tier ?!?!

    Sure the PHSO has clinical advisors, but they aren’t involved in interviews. How does the lay caseworker at PHSO know what questions to ask when he/she interviews a dentist, surgeon, or nurse ?

    Following a script won’t help because interviews are dynamic and sometimes you have to come up with questions as the dialogue progresses. The interviewee could be talking absolute rubbish and the poor PHSO would have no idea he/she was being given the run around.

  20. Roy Sutherland

    I am in the early stages of an investigation via the PHSO and I have a good feeling so far. Although it is early days they are “ticking all the boxes,” and if it continues in the same way I shall be really impressed, and that doesn’t happen too often!

    • Complainant

      Maybe things really are changing.

      I complained to PHSO nearly 300 days ago. Nothing has happened since, and I just get monthly update letters apologising for their delayed investigation.

    • lynda anne sherlock

      i did go through all the complaint procedure all the way to the ombudsman who wrote a report made recommendations who asked CQC, Commissioning group on the Wirral and NH’s monitor non of them monitored CWP TRUST. I complained to the ombudsman who didn’t investigate any thither and closed case a waste of paper time and effort it took me over 4 years. i say waste of tax payers money to have any i personally think they need regulators to regulate the regulators.

  21. Barnaby

    Investigation methods need to change. Overly focused on document records of the organisation being investigated. If the case is serious they’ll interview a few employees. That’s it.

    Learn from other professions like air crash investigators, police inspectors, private detectives, financial fraud case workers, etc. I’m sure they’ll all explain the importance of taking third party witness evidence.

    Or how about hiring some people from those sectors ? How about experienced investigators from around the world, ex- FBI, NTSB, SEC, AAIB, SFO, and of course staff from other successful Ombudsmen services.

    That’s how to modernise, by learning from the best.

    • Melanie

      The UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigates serious and complex fraud. It’s staffed by experienced finance professionals with decades of experience.

      The UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) investigates civil aircraft accidents. It’s staffed by experienced aviation professionals with decades of experience.

      The UK’s Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) investigates railway accidents. It’s staffed by experienced railway professionals with decades of experience.

      The UK’s Health Service Ombudsman ({P}HSO) investigates unfair acts or poor service from the NHS in England. It’s staffed by lay caseworkers with no medical experience.

      A FOI response tells us new PHSO caseworkers receive “initial training (over the first few weeks) and further training (over the course of the year)”. They are “usually allocated their first cases within their first week”. Hardly inspires confidence.

    • Seth

      Here’s some methods other investigative organisations use:

      1. Review documentary records
      2. Examine CCTV footage
      3. Look at phone call logs
      4. Take witness statements
      5. Visit the place where alleged events took place
      6. Use forensic techniques (DNA testing, finger prints, handwriting analysis, etc)
      7. Obtain expert opinion
      8. Collaborate with other public agencies working on the same case
      9. Interview ‘suspects’
      10. Review collateral records, such as employee e-mails

      Here’s what PHSO case workers use:

      1. Review documentary records
      2. Interview ‘suspects’
      3. Obtain expert opinion (only in healthcare cases, rarely for Parliamentary)

      There’s a huge shortfall. Even local councils employ private detectives to work on quite trivial matters. PHSO complainant allegations are usually much more serious, but they don’t make proper use of the evidence gathering powers granted to them by law.

      Why should the public have confidence ?

      • Julie Kanes

        Absolutely spot on! What you say is 100% correct. It seems obvious that the investigative methods you describe must be used. Some one who does not work in the nhs is necessary to prevent bias and naturally will appear more trustworthy to use. It is vital that experienced case workers in the department complained about are used in order to fully comprehend hidden complexities inexperienced people naturally miss- they know not what they are looking for. Definitely a panel of judges would be better to balance the parts missed that a single person would do. Investigation tools are crucial! As you say, use all the evidence available otherwise a balanced assessment is impossible. Witnesses, cc tv camera, email, and the power to look into cases where they say they have gaps in record keeping so are unable to provide information asked for, and when loss of records and lack of information needed is not given there must be an investigation as to where the missing information has gone, and when it is conveniently withheld it must be demanded using legal methods, so no organization can ‘ hide’ condemning evidence. At present the system does not support the patient as it is clear that their complaints are not balanced but biased against them, from the beginning the complaint process is barely known about and when discovered the system has been made extremely difficult making an already exhausted, injured party feel the added strain of being made to feel worthless and unimportant. The amount of unrepresented patients due to meeting brick wall after brick wall is astronomical. We desperately need a charter to at least try to achieve justice for the vulnerable layman. You spoke the truth and the obvious!! So why is it not in place – will it EVER be? !

  22. Della

    They recommend financial compensation when OTHER public organisations make mistakes.

    If someone complains about PHSO service delivery and it’s upheld (say an investigation took too long, or factual errors were made), financial compensation is NEVER an outcome.

    PHSO needs to be bound by the same complaint handling guidelines, including those for possible remedies! Otherwise the public won’t have confidence.

  23. Perry

    PHSO only thinks about complaints in black and white. They’re either ‘upheld’, or ‘not upheld’. It makes complaining adversarial, either they’re wrong and you’re right, or they’re right and you’re wrong. But that doesn’t reflect the reality of most complaints.

    I worked in a cafe and one time a customer complained we didn’t serve hot food in the morning. There was no policy or law that said we had to, so (as the PHSO would say) the complaint was ‘not upheld’. But the customer had expressed dissatisfaction, and that meant we should try to address the issue even if we didn’t have to. It was an opportunity to improve our service.

    It’s time to add a third ‘no decision’ category. Right now everyone who’s complaint is ‘not upheld’, is being told they’re wrong. That discourages people from complaining. This is especially relevant for cases where wrong doing was found, but not significant enough for maladministration.

    PHSO just tells these complainants they’re wrong. That’s utterly condescending. How about thanking them for taking time to complain, and acknowledge that lessons can be learnt even if the case isn’t upheld. This way complainants feel valued, as they should be.

  24. Miss P

    “What would put you off raising a complaint with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman?”

    Ridiculously low financial remedies. Not worth the effort to complain and might even cause more grievance. Offering a few thousand pounds for an avoidable death puts a low value on your family member’s life. That hurts.

    “How can we build confidence in the Ombudsman’s service?”

    Hire clinical advisors not employed by the NHS. Other ombudsmen don’t have such a conflict of interest, so why should the PHSO be different ?

  25. Ombudsman Commenter

    I think the PHSO gives little thought to the needs of ‘foreigners’. By this I mean expatriate workers, overseas students, temporary visitors, and tourists. As a group we make extensive use of certain public organisations like UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI), the Foreign & Commeanwealth Office (FCO), and unfortunately sometimes, the A&E department of NHS Trusts.

    But when things go wrong, we generally can’t complain to the PHSO. This is since often we’re not represented by a UK Member of Parliament (MP). This could be because we’re abroad using British Embassy services for example. The MP filter is a substantially bigger hurdle for us than local UK residents, and that is discriminatory.

    Walk into any British Consulate or Embassy around the world, and most staff have never heard of the PHSO. There are no leaflets in the waiting area either. If you finally manage to call their helpline number, chances are the PHSO team don’t speak your language.

    You don’t often here comments from us foreigners about the PHSO. It’s because we don’t even get as far as filing a complaint.

  26. Alan Reid

    I have little confidence in the PHSO.

    So long as the Ombudsman is a servant of the sovereign United Kingdom Parliament, the PHSO can never be independent.

    The requirement for a complaint to be ‘filtered’ through an MP is humiliating. In my case I am obliged to go through the chairman of the PASC, because I do not have the vote in the United Kingdom. (NB in the coming months, the requirement to go through an MP will become impracticable because of the general election).

    Will the Service Charter apply to MPs doing the filtering, for example including an obligation for MPs to acknowledge receipt of the complaint, and specifying a time period within which MPs must act ?

    Will MPs have to approve the Service Charter ?

    • brenda

      Be honest with complainants and say, were we to find during an investigation, there has been mal-practise, we do nothing, unless you have complained about it. If the complainant didn’t know, so can’t complain, too bad…and if people die avoidable deaths……? It would seem too bad. So where are lessons learnt?

      “The importance of staying within our role to investigate complaints from members of the public: while we can decide not to investigate part of a complaint that someone makes to us, we cannot decide to investigate something about which we have not received a complaint. To do so would be to go beyond our legal powers.


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