NHS ombudsman calls for clarity over Covid-19 public inquiry

1 July 2020, 09:37

The NHS ombudsman has called for clarity over any potential inquiry
The NHS ombudsman has called for clarity over any potential inquiry. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The Government should provide clarity around a public inquiry into the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, the health ombudsman has said.

The Whitehall watchdog which deals with complaints against the NHS in England has said learning the lessons from any mistakes made of the handling of the coronavirus crisis is vital.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) has written to Downing Street asking it to establish what future inquiries or reviews will take place.

The public has been asked to tell the NHS and other public bodies if they have concerns around the service they have been given during the crisis, and to come to the PHSO if it is not resolved.

Ombudsman Rob Behrens said: "Complaining when something has gone wrong should not be about criticising doctors, nurses or other frontline public servants, who have often been under extraordinary pressure dealing with the Covid-19 crisis.

"It is about identifying where things have gone wrong systemically and making sure lessons are learned so mistakes are not repeated."

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) also called for lessons to be learnt from the pandemic to save lives in the future.

Gill Walton, chief executive of the RCM, said: "Our NHS was lacking many of the crucial things it needed to cope with this crisis, not least a shortage of PPE and training for staff to use it.

"The RCM and other Royal Colleges had to step in to ensure people - from staff to pregnant women - had the most up-to-date information and advice when the Government was slow to act.

"The virus also hit our black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, including NHS staff and pregnant women, harder. We have got to quickly learn from this pandemic and prepare for the future so that we can save lives that should not be lost."

The PHSO, which paused its work on NHS complaints on March 26 to enable it to focus on Covid-19, will reopen this part of the service on Wednesday.

It said emerging complaints had centred around cancelled cancer treatments and people being given the wrong Covid-19 test results.

Ombudsman Behrens added: "Despite my repeated calls since taking office, the Government has failed to provide me with the powers available to most other national ombudsman around the world to launch an investigation without first receiving a complaint.

"It's really important, therefore, that if people have concerns about the service they have experienced they do complain to the public body and then come to my office if needed. Otherwise other people may experience the same failings."

Earlier this month, 27 medical and scientific experts wrote a letter warning many more Britons may die if a second wave hits at the end of the year.

It warned the Government is without "quick, practical solutions to some of the structural problems that have made implementing an effective (coronavirus) response so difficult".