Complaints about maladministration by public services have increased significantly over the past year, a new report has revealed.
The NI Ombudsman’s annual report highlights “a growing culture of poor record keeping” within the health and social care sector as of particular concern.
Ombudsman Dr Tom Frawley said that while complaints – referred by MLAs – about all public services were up 31 per cent overall, the surge “has been driven largely by a 46 per cent increase in complaints relating to health and social care bodies”.
As well as describing the rise “a continuing trend over recent years,” Dr Frawley said: “The gravity of these cases in health and social care were increasingly profound.”
He said: “Many complaints received involved serious adverse clinical incidents or tragically the death of a loved one which understandably gave rise to deep anxiety and distress on the part of relatives.”
Complaints against government departments and their agencies increased by 19 per cent last year with the Department of Environment (75 complaints) and Department of Finance and Personnel (39 complaints) jointly accounting for 41 per cent of total cases.
The DFP’s Land and Property Services (92 per cent) and DOE Planning Service (91 per cent) accounted for the majority of these complaints.
Commenting on the report’s key findings, Dr Frawley said: “The ongoing pressures facing some sectors including health and social care are evident in the notable increase in complaints to my office this year.
“The health and social care sector is being increasingly challenged to demonstrate openness and transparency in the way it investigates complaints and thus maintain the trust and confidence of patients and their families.
“It is essential, therefore, that it meets the challenge of delivering rigorous and professional standards of complaint handling and for clear explanations to be provided to the complainant as early in the process as possible.”
The report also includes a list of recommendations – and updates on the progress of legislation to modernise the Ombudsman’s Office.
A draft bill is currently being prepared with the intention of granting the ombudsman the authority to commence “own initiative” investigations.
A copy of the report can be found online at www.ni-ombudsman.org.uk/publications.aspx