Extended powers for the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales: Their significance for healthcare providers
The office of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales (PSOW) was created by statute in 2005. Notwithstanding his title, the PSOW’s powers of investigation already include the ability to investigate complaints in relation to a service provided by a private health service provider, if that service was NHS-funded.
The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales Bill is currently being considered in committee by the National Assembly, prior to plenary consideration by the Assembly itself.
As well as consolidating the PSOW’s existing powers, the Bill if passed as drafted will make the following changes:
- Currently, the PSOW is only entitled to consider complaints which have been made to him in writing. The Bill provides that he will be entitled to investigate complaints made orally.
- The Bill provides that, in addition to considering complaints made to him, he will be entitled to carry out ‘own initiative investigations’ (OII) where no complaint has been made to him, provided he is satisfied that to do so is in the public interest, and either:
- A vulnerable or disadvantaged person is likely to sustain injustice or hardship in consequence of the matter which is being considered for investigation; or
- Having regard to complaints received by the PSOW, the matter which is being considered for investigation is likely to amount to a systemic failure which may cause any person to sustain injustice or hardship.
- The Bill contains a new power for the PSOW to issue statements of principles and model procedures in relation to complaints handling, and it obliges NHS bodies to comply with them in handling complaints.
- The Bill allows the PSOW to investigate a service provided by a private health service provider even if it was not NHS-funded, provided:
- The patient in question has received linked NHS treatment; and
- The matter in issue cannot be investigated effectively or completely without also investigating ‘matters relating to the private health services’.
In addition, the Bill provides for the costs incurred by the PSOW (including the cost of legal and expert advice) in investigating the service provided by the private health service provider to be recovered from that provider, but only if it has obstructed the PSOW in the discharge of his functions, or has acted in a manner which would amount to a contempt of court.
Impact assessment carried out in relation to the Bill suggests that the number of investigations carried out by the PSOW is likely to increase if it is passed, over and above the existing upward year-on-year trend.
There is also a retrospective element in the Bill, as it provides that the PSOW may investigate a complaint involving action taken before it receives Royal Assent.
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