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Health service complaints account for lion's share of new ombudsman caseload

More than 40 per cent of complaints received by the Public Services Ombudsman related to the Northern Ireland health service
Seanín Graham

AN ombudsman probe into the care of a seriously ill woman in a Belfast hospital has found "significant failings" that led to her father carrying out basic nursing tasks during her final hours.

The case involving the Belfast trust - which subsequently apologised - is one of several NHS investigations carried out by the new Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman's office (NIPSO) over the past year and is included its first annual report, published today.

Complaints about the north's health sector accounted for more than 40 per cent of referrals, including "discriminatory" practices by the Southern trust against deaf people after it emerged it failed to get a sign language interpreter for a hospital patient - that left her "struggling" to access medical information.

Another NIPSO investigation slated the Western trust over its handling of concerns raised by a family who discovered their mother had sustained "multiple fractures" shortly after her death.

In a damning assessment, the ombudsman team found "insufficient interviews" had been carried out by the Western trust with staff involved in handling the woman's body - and "clear evidence of a 'closed mind' attitude adopted throughout".

Created in April last year, the new watchdog's remit is to independently investigate complaints from individuals who believe they have been failed by a public service provider.

A total of 3,385 complaints were made last year, a 12 per cent increase on the previous year, with cases also brought against universities, the Housing Executive, government departments and local councils.

Ombudsman Marie Anderson said they were aiming to make the complaints process easier.

"For instance, complainants no longer need their MLA to sponsor a complaint to the office and there is no longer a requirement for a complaint to be made in writing," she said.

Ms Anderson added: "My recommendations are aimed at remedying injustice suffered by individuals as a result of service failings. They are also about achieving service improvements which are practical, proportionate and of benefit to the wider public.

"...Throughout it is my intention to ensure that public service providers learn lessons from our investigations and continue to improve public services".

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