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Ombudsman slams health board for three-year delay in response to complaint

The Public Services Ombudsman has told a health board in Wales to provide a complainant with the expert clinical and legal advice to which he was entitled, after it took more than three years to provide a final response to the original complaint.

Mr D had complained to Cwm Taf University Health Board about the care and treatment of his mother following her death at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital in 2012.

Despite the health board accepting there had been a breach in its duty of care and promising to investigate the matter further, the complainant heard nothing substantive for nearly two years, when they claimed the original complaint record had been misplaced in a ‘culling exercise’.

In September 2015, when the health board had still failed to respond, the Ombudsman contacted its chief executive who agreed to provide Mr D with redress for the delay and to pursue his complaint as a matter of urgency.

The Ombudsman launched an investigation a year later, after Mr D had heard nothing further.

The Ombudsman found that the health board had:

  • when providing Mr D with an interim report, failed to offer him free legal advice and the opportunity to jointly instruct an expert clinician to consider his mother’s care, in line with the National Health Service (Concerns, Complaints and Redress Arrangements) (Wales) Regulations 2011. (These regulations are known as the “Putting Things Right” process).
  • concluded that the failings identified were not the cause of his mother’s death, but failed to inform Mr D that this decision had been reached without her clinical records which it had misplaced.

The Ombudsman made several recommendations including that Mr D should be offered the expert clinical and legal advice he was entitled to under the Putting Things Right process.

Commenting on the investigation, Nick Bennett, Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, said: “This was at best, a lack of transparency and at worst, an attempt by the Health Board to mislead, potentially jeopardising patients’ faith in the Putting Things Right process.

“This is exactly the type of poor complaint handling highlighted in my recent thematic report Ending Groundhog Day: Lessons in Poor Complaint Handling. We need to move beyond this fear and blame culture, and use the lessons from complaints to drive improvements to public services in Wales.

“Whilst I cannot change the sad outcome for Mrs D, I hope that the Health Board will learn from this experience and ensure future complaints are dealt with in a timely and compassionate way.”