Ombudsman Uncovers Litany of Serious NHS Failings

Reuters/Darren Staples

Serious failings by the NHS left cancer patients without treatment, forced families to turn to private healthcare for their loved ones and prevented families from being with dying relatives, according to a damning new report.

The litany of failures was compiled by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman in its latest report, which takes a detailed look at 163 case-studies out of the 618 complaints resolved between October and November 2014 alone.

But although the Ombudsman is the point of call for complaints for all government departments, the vast majority of complaints – 80 per cent – were about the NHS in England, as opposed to any other government department. Most of those were complaints made against hospital trusts, followed by complaints regarding GPs, and then about mental health trusts.

Of the total, 41 per cent of complaints were upheld by the Ombudsman. Of those not upheld, there were some cases in which no wrongdoing was found to have occurred, but in others, the Ombudsman found that there was a legitimate complaint, but that it had been handled correctly by the department in question.

However, the case studies highlight some serious failings. Among them, “Mr A”, a man who attended University Hospital, at the Southampton NHS Foundation Trust presenting with symptoms of prostate cancer. The Ombudsman found that he had suffered “considerable delays” in accessing diagnostic tests, and when he was finally diagnosed with cancer, faced a further extended wait for treatment. The man turned to private healthcare for treatment, paid for from his own pocket.

The Ombudsman ordered the trust to pay him £5,000 in compensation, and to “learn lessons or draw up an action plan.” They were also ordered to apologise for his lack of treatment.

In another case, the children of a woman who had been rushed to A&E at the Birmingham NHS Trust hospital were told by staff that they couldn’t see her because she was being treated. Instead, they were left on the other side of the cubicle curtain for five hours with no explanations as to what was happening, during which time they heard their mother have several heart attacks. They also heard nurses mocking the state of their mother’s skin.

After their mother’s death her children were told that they could see her, but were left for another 45 minutes before finally taking matters into their own hands and entering the cubicle. It was a further 20 minutes before a nurse came to see them.

The family were paid £750 in compensation in recognition of the distress caused to the family through poor communication and complaints handling. Birmingham Trust was also ordered to “learn lessons or draw up an action plan”, and to “apologise”

Poor healthcare for elderly patients was also highlighted: University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust left one man with dementia on a trolley in A&E for more than 33 hours, and then left him in an assessment unit for a further 42 hours. Meanwhile, paramedics working for the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust left a frail 80-year-old woman who had soiled herself and was suffering from sickness and diarrhoea alone in her house, even though she was unable to use a commode by herself. The Ombudsman found that failure to take her to hospital “caused her avoidable distress, discomfort and loss of dignity.”

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Julie Mellor said: “These cases show the impact that service failure can have on individuals and their loved ones.”

The Ombudsman has also highlighted a number of non-health related cases. Amongst them are a New Zealand woman who wrongly lost her permanent status to reside in the UK following incorrect advice by the Immigration service, and a man going through an acrimonious divorce who lost benefits due to incorrect advice from the JobcentrePlus.

The UK Border Force was also forced to pay £12,000 in compensation to a company that supplies cereals to manufacturers in the UK, after it damaged several sacks of bran when inspecting a lorry.

Ms Mellor said: “These case studies – which are a snapshot of our work – show the wide range of unresolved complaints we look at, many of which should be resolved by the organisations locally, without people having to refer the complaint to us.

“Good complaint handling has to start from the top, and leaders will recognise the valuable opportunities complaints provide to really improve the service they are delivering. Many people complain about public services to enable lessons to be learnt because they don’t want the same thing to happen to somebody else.”

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