Health chat with Roy Lilley and Julie Mellor
On Wednesday last week I attended a ‘health chat’ with Julie Mellor hosted by Roy Lilley. I wasn’t planning on going but a friend offered me a ticket the day before. As I was at a spare end and in London, I went along.
The conversation started with a discussion about Mellor’s upbringing and personal journey towards becoming the current Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). The conversation might have been a little more interesting had Mellor’s intriguing family connection with the Wolf of Wall Street
been explored, but alas it wasn’t to be.
Whilst I’m sure this part of the discussion would have been of interest to some in the room, I was waiting for the conversation to come around to the important issues.
Over the last year, PHSO has not been out of the news, having repeatedly been accused of badly letting patients and their families down.
More recently the Patients Association have released two damning reports detailing case studies highlighting how the PHSO continue to let down patients and their families.
The Patients Association’s work prompted their Chief Executive Katherine Murphy to state:
We have no confidence in the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman to carry out an independent, fair, open, honest and robust investigation.
When the conversation did eventually get around to touching on these issues, we heard how PHSO were part way through a transformation ‘journey’ and that the first phase, increasing the number of investigations, was now complete. Mellor stated that this has been achieved without any additional staff being employed – impressive stuff.
The second phase of PHSO’s transformation journey we were told, is to improve the quality of their investigations.
It strikes me that there is something a bit back to front about this approach. If you know that the way you investigate isn’t robust enough and sometimes fails to uncover the truth, surely you should address this issue first, before subjecting even more vulnerable patients to the same flawed investigative processes?
A telling moment during the evening came when Roy Lilley himself commented that he wouldn’t consider referring a complaint to PHSO because he had ‘no confidence that they would investigate properly.’
Who can blame him?
My own experience was summed up perfectly in Private Eye last month.
Still, Mellor refuses to withdraw her organisations report or admit to having made a serious mistake.
….we are aware of the considerable anguish and disquiet where Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman investigations fail to uncover the truth, and of pain inflicted by the Ombudsman when it has been defensive and reluctant to admit mistakes.
The final question of the night came from Chief Executive of Patients Association, Katherine Murphy herself. Katherine gave a summary of the Patients Association’s concerns from their casework and asked why PHSO appeared so defensive and reluctant to admit mistakes. There was loud applause from the audience. Mellor’s reply was that it was like ‘being stuck between a rock and a hard place’.
The analogy that ran through my mind as the evening drew to a close was that of a flight attendant flying the airplane. But then I realised that with the right training and support, this was something not outside the realms of being achievable. The issues we are dealing with here are about culture, insight, openness, honestly and human understanding. The current crisis in leadership of PHSO is in my view, much more dangerous.
James Titcombe – 20th April 2015