A word from Michelle

Welcome to the second edition of our newsletter.

It aims to bring you a quick and easy-to-digest summary of our work over the recent months – including main complaints trends between April and June this year as well as recent outcomes of Code of Conduct referrals.

However, we also take the opportunity to summarise here several key publications. Although we issued no public interest reports since the last newsletter, it has nevertheless been busy few months!

In June, we were pleased to publish our strategic report ‘Groundhog Day 2’ pointing to some themes in complaint handling in the NHS. In July, we laid before the Senedd our Annual Report 2022/23, highlighting, yet again, an increase in the volume of complaints reaching our office. Finally, over the last week we issued our Annual Letters to Welsh Health Boards and local councils as well as published detailed data on how these bodies handled complaints in 2022/23.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the staff for their hard work over the recent months. But our workload is showing no signs of slowing down! In addition to our core work of handling complaints, we are currently analysing evidence about accessibility and use of carers needs assessments at four local councils: Caerphilly, Ceredigion, Flintshire and Neath Port Talbot, as part of our Own Initiative Investigation. We are also looking forward to several outreach opportunities, including the Mastering Diversity Conference, and conferences with One Voice Wales and TPAS later in the Autumn.  Our outreach work will include attending a Health Fair organised by Race Equality First, as well as hosting a joint awareness-raising event with Settled, a charity supporting EU citizens in the UK.

We are looking forward to updating you about this work in our next newsletter!

Our complaints

During the first quarter of 2023/24, overall we received 2484 new enquiries and complaints – up 17% on the same period last year.  Enquiries increased by 26% and Code of Conduct complaints increased by 69%.  This was offset by a reduction of 3% in the number of complaints about public services.

We also closed 2442 cases – of which 784 were complaints. In the last quarter alone, we completed 54 full investigations of public service complaints.  86% of these were about health services.

Code of Conduct referrals

We had decisions on referrals to Standards Committees and to the Adjudication Panel for Wales:

  • Councillor Tim Van – Rees (no longer a Member of Mid & West Wales Fire Authority at time of the hearing) – Our report concerned a complaint that the Councillor had improperly used his position as a member of the Authority when corresponding with the complainant about a civil matter. The Standards Committee of Mid & West Wales Fire Authority decided that Former Councillor Van-Rees should be censured, as he is no longer a member of the Fire Authority.
  • Former Councillor Jonathan Twigg (no longer a Member of Haverfordwest Town Council at time of hearing) – Our report concerned a complaint that the Councillor had called the Clerk “a liar” on 2 occasions during a meeting of the Council’s Management, Estates and Strategy Committee.  The Standards Committee of Haverfordwest Town Council decided that Former Councillor Twigg should be censured, the maximum available sanction as he had resigned from office shortly before the hearing.
  • Councillor Sean Aspey of Bridgend County Borough Council – Our report concerned a complaint that the Councillor had used his position inappropriately in relation to fundraising efforts to oppose plans by the Ministry of Justice to consider using a Porthcawl hotel to house Wales’ Residential Women’s Centre. The Standards Committee of Bridgend County Borough Council decided that the Member should be suspended for 3 months.
  • Former Councillor Donald Wilfred Jenkins of St Harmon Community Council – Our report concerned a complaint that the Councillor had provided false information to Audit Wales. Adjudication Panel for Wales decided that the Councillor should be disqualified for 15 months from being or becoming a member of the authority or of any other relevant authority.
  • Former Councillor Karen Laurie-Parry of Powys County Council – Our report concerned a complaint that the Councillor had:

1. Disclosed confidential information.

2. Made allegations without evidence to support them to a wide audience.

3. Behaved inappropriately during a confidential session of the full Council meeting on 15 July.

4. Made unreasonable demands.

5. Demanded an unreasonable amount of officer time and attention.

6. Made vexatious complaints and complaints without foundation.

7. Behaved inappropriately during a confidential session of the full Council meeting on 15 July.

Adjudication Panel for Wales decided that the Councillor should be disqualified for 18 months.

  • Interim Councillor Steve Davies of Ceredigion County Council and Aberystwyth Town Council – We are investigating a complaint that the Councillor has breached the Code of Conduct.  During the investigation, we issued an interim report to the Adjudication Panel for Wales (APW) recommending that it was in the public interest for the Councillor to be suspended immediately from his role as a councillor on both local authorities, pending the conclusion of our investigation of the complaint. 

The APW’s Interim Case tribunal found that the prima facie evidence was such that it appeared that Councillor Davies has failed to comply with the Code of Conduct and that it was in the public interest to suspend Councillor Davies for a period of up to 6 months, pending the outcome of our investigation.  As this was an Interim referral, no findings of fact have been made at this stage. This will be a matter for a Case Tribunal to decide, should we decide to refer the matter to the APW when our investigation has concluded.

Our Annual Report 2022/23

In July, we laid before the Senedd our Annual Report for 2022/23 ‘A year of change – a year of challenge’.

We welcomed the drop in the number of new complaints about the Code of Conduct, and in the number of potentially serious breaches of the Code that we had to refer on. Our improvement work is progressing apace, with more bodies brought under our complaints standards. Not least, during the year we developed our new Strategic Plan, setting out our ambitions for our office, public services and local democracy in Wales.

Despite these and other positives, it has also been a very challenging year. We are seeing more complaints about public services. Health continues to be the subject of over 80% of our investigations overall and these investigations are often lengthy and complex. This workload meant that some people have had to wait longer for an outcome.  Our growing workload has also affected the well-being of our staff.

We trust that our new Strategic Plan will help us work more efficiently and have more impact, while also allowing us to remain a supportive and healthy workplace. Nevertheless, our increasing caseload pressures are a growing concern and we will be realistic about the resources and capacity available to us to deliver change as we embark on this new chapter in our service to the people of Wales.

Our strategic report: ‘Groundhog Day 2’

In June we published ‘Groundhog Day 2: An Opportunity for Cultural Change in Complaint Handling?’ which focuses on ongoing issues with how Welsh Health Boards handle complaints.

It builds upon “Ending Groundhog Day: Lessons from Poor Complaint Handling”, published by our office in March 2017.

It shows that the lessons highlighted by our office in 2017 remain relevant today.

The case examples included in the Report demonstrate that all too often, Health Boards respond to complaints defensively rather than seeing them as an opportunity for learning and improving the services they deliver.

The themes identified in the Report point to areas were learning and improvement is urgently needed to improve the patient and complainant experience:

  • A lack of openness and candour
  • A lack of objective review of clinical care and treatment
  • Timeliness and quality of communications
  • Robustness and fairness of investigations undertaken by Health Boards.

The Report emphasises that the introduction of the ‘Duty of Candour’, that applies to all health organisations in Wales from 1 April this year, presents a fresh opportunity for cultural change. The Duty mandates health organisations to be open, transparent, and honest when patients experience harm during healthcare. This cultural shift aims to promote candour and systemic learning from mistakes.

Annual Letters

Every year, we send local councils and Health Boards letters concerning the complaints we have received and considered about them during the year.

Through these letters, we want to help them improve their complaint handling and the services that they provide.

We issued the letters for 2022/23 on 18 August and asked the organisations to consider them internally and notify us when they have done so.

Complaints Standards data for 2022/23

Finally, only this week we have published data on complaints handled by Welsh Health Boards and local councils in 2022/23. We collect and analyse this data as part of our Complaints Standards work, to drive better and more transparent complaint handling in public sector in Wales.

Click here for detailed data.


Would you like to receive our newsletter? Let us know at communications@ombudsman.wales