As an Assembly Member, I undertake a considerable amount of casework on behalf of my constituents – relating to health, social services, education, and other matters which fall under the remit of the National Assembly for Wales.
In most instances, cases are resolved quite simply, and I pride myself and office on our dedication to this element of the role, and strength with which we fight for a fair outcome.
Of course, however, not every case is straightforward, and sometimes – when all other avenues have been exhausted – a formal investigation by the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales is required.
The Ombudsman’s role is to investigate, and hold to account, the performance of public services and independent care providers in Wales – including the Welsh Government. Examples of complaints that the Ombudsman might deal with are ambulances taking too long to arrive; the Health Service not diagnosing people’s conditions quickly enough; housing applications mishandled; failing to find the right education for children with special needs; and social housing not being repaired properly.
Whilst the Ombudsman in Wales does a fantastic job, the powers of role are less than Ombudsmen in the rest of the UK and most of Europe.
So I have been pleased to welcome proposals by the Assembly for a new Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill, which seeks to strengthen this position in a number of ways, some of which I will detail below.
The Bill would give the Ombudsman the power to initiative his own investigate – rather than just those brought to him by members of the public. This is important for instances where someone may not be able to raise concerns directly themselves – for example, if they have dementia, and are struggling with their care.
It will also give the power to accept oral complaints. At present, only written complaints are accepted, limiting accessibility for those with limited writing skills or capacity, or others unable to express themselves in this way.
Additionally, the Ombudsman will be able to investigate complaints against private healthcare providers. One of the tragic stories taken in evidence prior to this Bill being introduced really struck a chord with me: “A member of the public had contacted [the Ombudsman’s] office in respect of the treatment provided to her deceased husband, who had received treatment in the NHS, then had private treatment before returning to the health service. The Ombudsman noted that the member of the public had to wait five and a half years to get a response.”
If you have a concern that you feel needs raising either to myself, as your Assembly Member, or the Ombudsman – please don’t hesitate to contact my office at 29 Madoc Street, Llandudno, for more information.