PUBLICATION OF THE ANNUAL REPORT OF THE ASSEMBLY OMBUDSMAN FOR NORTHERN IRELAND AND THE NORTHERN IRELAND COMMISSIONER FOR COMPLAINTS 2015 -2016.
- OMBUDSMAN CALLS FOR GREATER KNOWLEDGE SHARING ACROSS HEALTH AND SOCIAL CARE TRUSTS TO IMPROVE PATIENT OUTCOMES
- HEALTH AND SOCIAL CARE COMPLAINTS CONTINUE TO DOMINATE THE WORKLOAD OF THE OMBUDSMAN’S OFFICE
- COMPLAINTS ABOUT GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES CONTINUE TO FALL
- COMPLAINTS ABOUT THE CONDUCT OF COUNCILLORS BROUGHT EQUALLY BY MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC AND FELLOW COUNCILLORS
Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care Trusts must collaborate more and share knowledge in an effort to improve their handling of Serious Adverse Incidents and complaints to improve the outcomes for patients.
That is the call from the Northern Ireland Ombudsman Marie Anderson as she publishes the Annual Report of the Assembly Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints 21015 – 2016.
Complaints about health and social care providers continue to dominate the work of the Ombudsman. In the year 2015-16, 45% of the 740 new complaints received by the office of the Assembly Ombudsman and Commissioner for Complaints for Northern Ireland were about patient experiences in the health and social care sector, up from 41% in 2014-2015 and 38% in 2013-2014.
While the figure of 45% in itself is substantial, the impact on the workload of the Ombudsman’s office is considerably more. Given the complexity of health and social care complaints which require expert advice and can often involve a range of providers, it is estimated that at any given time 80% of the workload of the office is focussed on assessing and investigating health sector complaints.
In keeping with previous years, the overriding issue of complaint was a failure in clinical care and treatment. However, the Ombudsman also found that inadequacies in the complaint handling and communications process across the sector were significant issues. Of the complaints received that warranted investigation, 56% related to Health and Social Care Trusts with a significant number of investigations in this year (26%) relating to GP Practices.
Commenting on the nature of the health related complaints received, the Ombudsman said that she was particularly concerned about failings identified in how the Health and Social Care Trusts are dealing with Serious Adverse Incidents (SAIs).
“Three major health cases that were reported on in 2015-2016, reveal failings in how Health and Social Care Trusts deal with SAIs. One of these SAI cases related to Mental Health Care and Treatment in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, a summary of which is included in my report.
The failings in these Serious Adverse Incidents are both concerning and disappointing. SAIs and the resulting internal reviews should allow the learning from such incidents to be captured and shared so as to improve patient safety and outcomes. In light of these cases, I intend to proactively engage with the 5 Health and Social Care Trusts to secure improvements in the transmission of feedback from SAIs and from complaints generally, so as to increase learning opportunities and process improvements”.
The Ombudsman also highlighted the need for health and social care providers to improve their communications with patients and families.
“Communication or more properly a lack of clear communication was raised as an issue in a number of complaints which I reported on in this year. The extent and level of communication with family members of a patient with incapacity or with mental health issues is a difficult issue for HSC providers. I would remind those involved in providing care of the need to communicate clearly and in a timely manner with patients and their families to the extent permitted. I would urge those involved to take the time to ensure understanding particularly when communicating key information in relation to diagnosis, prognosis, treatment or tests and ensuring the presence of family members where this would be beneficial” said Marie Anderson.
Complaints regarding Government Departments and Statutory Agencies
Although dominated by complaints regarding the health sector, the wider role of the Ombudsman’s office in 2015-2016 was to deal independently with complaints from people complaining of maladministration by government departments, local Councils and a wide range of other public service providers. In this respect the Ombudsman reports a continuing downward trend in the number of complaints. In 2015-2016 a total of 170 written complaints about government departments and their statutory agencies were brought to the office, 17% fewer than in 2014-2015 which had seen a 26% drop in such complaints from the 2013-2014 figures.
Commenting on the continued reduction in the number of complaints being brought about government departments and their statutory agencies the Ombudsman said –
“Credit must go to the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Services Sir Malcolm McKibbin and his fellow Permanent Secretaries for the commitment they have given to ensuring that there is a thorough and effective complaints handling process across departments and agencies. The robustness of the complaints processes they have put in place has led to fewer complainants feeling the need to bring their complaint to my office. I am hopeful that this trend will continue”.
Complaints regarding the Conduct of Councillors
From June 2014, the Ombudsman, in the role of Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints, has had powers to investigate complaints about alleged breaches of the Local Government Code of Conduct for Councillors. In that role, the Ombudsman adjudicated on the relevant sanctions to be applied, where a breach of the Code has been found. During 2015-16 a total of 33 complaints were received and nine were carried forward from 2014-15. The total number of complaints under investigation under the Code was 42. In relation to these complaints, 1 was withdrawn, 28 were closed during the assessment process and 3 investigation reports were issued. At the end of the 2015-16 reporting year, 10 Code of Conduct complaints remained under investigation.
Of the new complaints received, 50% were made by the general public with 50% having been made by a Councillor against another Councillor. A significant proportion of complaints received related to social media and the Ombudsman warned that the same standards of conduct apply online as offline.
“When the Code of Conduct applies, it applies to all of a Councillor’s communications, including social media such as Twitter, Facebook, internet forums or blogs. Councillors need to manage their online engagement very carefully” said Marie Anderson.
Tribute to Dr Tom Frawley CBE
The report published today, is the final Annual Report of the Assembly Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints. As a result of the Public Services Ombudsman (Northern Ireland) Act 2016, these two offices ceased to exist on 31 March 2016 and were replaced from 01 April 2016 with the office of the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman and the Northern Ireland Local Government Standards Commissioner.
In laying the report before the Northern Ireland Assembly, Marie Anderson who was appointed Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman in April paid tribute to Dr Tom Frawley CBE who retired from the roles of Assembly Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints in March.
“I would like to take this opportunity to record my gratitude to Dr Frawley on his selfless service and exemplary commitment to this Office as Assembly Ombudsman and Commissioner for Complaints for over fifteen and a half years. Dr Frawley as Ombudsman was held in high regard and his sound judgment and sense of fairness brought consistency to his decisions for the benefit of the citizens and the staff in the bodies in jurisdiction”.
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