FOI disclosure 26 October 2016 by PHSO on complaints made about NHS England

Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) has disclosed that since NHS England’s inception in 2013, it has received a total of 840 complaints about NHS England, 121 (14.4 %) of which were accepted for investigation. PHSO fully upheld ten (1.1 %) of the complaints, and partly upheld six (0.7 %) of the complaints. There are still 61 ongoing investigations. According to the PHSO, a total of 37 complaints have been made about funding and commissioning . There are some discrepancies between PHSO’s and NHS England’s data on complaints. NHS England’s published data does not give a complete picture of how complaints about NHS England are handled.

The full FOI disclosure by the PHSO, which includes a description of the types of complaints made, can be found here:


It is not possible tell what proportion of complaints about NHS England progress to the PHSO stage, because NHS England’s corporate publications give only total numbers of all complaints made to NHS England. The numbers of complaints about NHS England itself are not separately provided. [1] Neither does NHS England give clear data on the number of complaints that it upholds. Only some selected, anecdotal examples are given of lessons purportedly learnt. For the sake of transparency and accountability, these are gaps that should be remedied.

There is no complete, published tally of complaints made to NHS England to date, and changes in categorisation mean that data from 2015/16 onwards cannot be compared with earlier data. However, in the first two years after NHS England was established, it received a total of 21,887 complaints.

NHS England’s intermittent reports about the performance of its customer contact services, including complaints handling, have shown that the percentage of customers who are satisfied by the outcome of their contacts with NHS England has run between 40 to 60%.

NHS England started giving figures for complaints that progressed to the PHSO stage in its annual report for 2015/2016. [2] However, NHS England’s figures do not match the PHSO’s figures for the same period.

NHS England has reported that in 2015/16, five complaints were fully upheld by PHSO, ten complaints were partly upheld and eleven complaints were not upheld:


Source: NHS England annual report 2015/16

In contrast, PHSO has informed me that in 2015/16, four complaints were fully upheld, one complaint was partly upheld and twenty two complaints were not upheld.

I have brought the discrepancy between NHS England’s and PHSO’s data to the PHSO’s attention and requested clarification.


Questions arise about whether such a low rate of upheld complaints represents fair treatment of complainants by the PHSO, notwithstanding accuracy of the data that has been provided.



PHSO has the CQC’s back

An FOI in 2015 showed that PHSO had not upheld any complaints against the Care Quality Commission.

Do ‘Complaints Matter’ to CQC?

Analysis of data from CQC’s annual reports has shown that CQC does not hold itself to the same standards that it expects of the organisations that it regulates, in terms of the handling complaints against itself.



[1] NHS England annual reports, annual customer contact and complaints report 2014/2015, and quarterly customer contact reports

[2] NHS England annual report 2015/2016


2 thoughts on “FOI disclosure 26 October 2016 by PHSO on complaints made about NHS England

  1. PHSO tend to be ‘creative’ with data. They often fail to store it in any retrieval fashion which means they can rely on cost limitation to prevent publication. How they make year on year comparisons is beyond me as they have no data to serve as a base line. Still, if you don’t look you don’t see and this could well be the PHSO motto. Good luck with your digging.


  2. Agreed. I think that motto applies equally to NHS powers that be. Dispersing information that should be centrally tracked and analysed – or at least claiming that you have done so – is indeed a well worn trick for defying FOI & public scrutiny.


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