Dear Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman,

I understand from Dame Julie Mellor that PHSO is the only Ombudsman service to use both internal and external reviewers to assess casework.

Can you confirm the number of external reviewers used by PHSO in 2011 - 2012?

Can you inform me of the criteria for a case being referred to an external reviewer?

Can you tell me if it is possible for a customer to request a review by an external reviewer?

Can you tell me how many cases were reviewed by an external reviewer in 2011 - 2012?

Can you tell me how many of those case were then investigated by PHSO?

Finally, can you tell me how many of the cases, reviewed by an external reviewer later went on to be upheld by PHSO?

Many thanks,

D. Reynolds.

foiofficer, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

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foiofficer, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

Dear Della

Your information request (FDN- 180582)

I write in response to your email of December 2013. In your email you set out a number of requests about external reviewers. I will address your questions in turn.

1) Can you confirm the number of external reviewers used by PHSO in 2011 - 2012?

Between the business years April 2011- March 2012 we had five external reviewers.

2) Can you inform me of the criteria for a case being referred to an external reviewer?

We do not have a set policy under which we decide which cases are allocated to an external reviewer as we use external reviewers flexibly depending on the case type. However, generally speaking the criteria for a case being referred to an external reviewer would be cases that are particularly complex and cases that contain complaints about members of the Review Team.

3) Can you tell me if it is possible for a customer to request a review by an external reviewer?

A customer may request a review by an external reviewer. However, the decision to allocate a case to an external reviewer remains with PHSO.

4) Can you tell me how many cases were reviewed by an external reviewer in 2011 - 2012?

Between April 2011 - March 2012, 241 cases were reviewed by external reviewers.

5) Can you tell me how many of those case were then investigated by PHSO?

Of the 241 cases that were reviewed by external reviewers we upheld (error in decision) seven cases, upheld (service failure) in one case and partly upheld 13 cases. Of the 21 cases that we fully or partly upheld we passed seven cases back for a fresh assessment and we extended the scope of one investigation.

6) Finally, can you tell me how many of the cases, reviewed by an external reviewer later went on to be upheld by PHSO?

Of the seven cases we passed back for a fresh assessment four cases were then accepted for investigation, investigated and three cases were fully upheld and one case was partly upheld. The remaining three cases were re-assessed but not accepted for investigation. Additionally, we upheld the case where we extended the scope of the investigation.

Yours sincerely

Claire Helm
Freedom of Information/Data Protection Officer
Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
E: [Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman request email]
W: www.ombudsman.org.uk

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All email communications with PHSO pass through the Government Secure Intranet, and may be automatically logged, monitored and/or recorded for legal purposes.
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Dear Claire Helm,

Thank you for your reply concerning my FOI regarding PHSO use of external reviewers. According to your 2011 - 2012 resource accounts 1,159 complaints were resolved in that year. Given that a complaint and a review is one and the same according to PHSO, it would mean that the external reviewers handled only 20% of all cases as they looked at 241 of the total.

In reply to Greg Mulholland at the PASC meeting on 16th December Dame Julie Mellor stated that: "Picking up that question specifically, we are the only ombudsman service with a dedicated team, with a separate reporting line and that uses external reviewers for reviews of our decisions. We are the only ombudsman service that has those three things in place."

It is important for people to know that 80% of the review decisions are actually carried out by internal reviewers, who we know from previous FOI requests can also act as assessors; thereby blurring the lines between the two. Given that a member of the public cannot choose to have an external reviewer and automatically be assigned one, it is possible for PHSO to keep all their dirty washing 'in house' so to speak.

Even though PHSO effectively mark their own homework when carrying out a review, they did uphold 147 cases or 11.8% There is therefore an acceptance that in 11.8% of cases PHSO staff made a mistake which required rectification. It is therefore misleading to read on p9 of the Resource Account the statement that: "We give serious consideration to any complaints raised by our customers about our decisions and we seek
to use the learning from these to improve our
performance. In 2011-12 we found that 0.4% of
our total decisions needed to be looked at
again or required further explanation."

It can be seen from the figures stated above that in relation to 'complaints' the actual number of decisions which needed to be looked at again was 11.8%. Even this figure must take into account that the Ombudsman has total control of the process. Which cases to review internally and which to review externally, which cases to uphold and which to deny. The opportunity for bias is glaringly obvious. The actual figure regarding poor decision making is potentially far higher than the admitted 11.8% and certainly significantly higher than the misleading figure of 0.4%

Given that customer service is now 'embedded' in your approach to review work, I wonder why it is not possible for a customer to choose and receive an external reviewer.

Thank you very much for this information. It will now be shared with others on the website http://phsothefacts.com

Yours sincerely,

D. Reynolds.

foiofficer, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

Thank you for your e-mail to the Parliamentary and Health Service
Ombudsman. This return e-mail shows that we have received your
correspondence.

show quoted sections

All email communications with PHSO pass through the Government Secure
Intranet, and may be automatically logged, monitored and/or recorded for
legal purposes.
The MessageLabs Anti Virus Service is the first managed service to achieve
the CSIA Claims Tested Mark (CCTM Certificate Number 2006/04/0007), the UK
Government quality mark initiative for information security products and
services. For more information about this please visit www.cctmark.gov.uk

Jt Oakley left an annotation ()

It's not possible for a complainant to choose an external reviewer because they are supposed to be neutral.

In effect, they are responsible to the Head of Review..that's the head of the group who reviews the cases.

Therefore their neutrality is compromised.

In these circumstances, it's surprising that any reviewer can come up with a fair assessment - both against their own employer and their own 'line manager's' work.

Since external reviewers can be assumed to have some integrity, It would be interesting to know their turnover rate ...and the reasons that they gave for leaving.

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