Cecil Clothier - Ombudsman - Health Investigations

Health Investigations

Clothier found that a greater number of people were becoming aware with the existence of the Office and its functions as a Health Service Ombudsman. However, such awareness was also accompanied by misconception about what the Ombudsman did. New publicity material was issued by the Office and the Local Government Ombudsman in 1981 which sought to explain the differences between the Parliamentary and Health Service functions exercised by the Office and the jurisdiction over local authorities exercised by the Local Government Ombudsman. Film presentations of the functions of the Office were also produced for use in schools and libraries. Clothier found it problematic that some half of all complaints he received related wholly or partly to actions arising from the exercise of clinical judgment, a matter on which he was not empowered to investigate. Clothier commented that it was 'a source of some embarrassment when I have to send rejection letters to complainants explaining this particular jurisdictional exclusion. Many find it very difficult indeed to understand or accept it.' There was continued opposition from the medical profession to the extension of the Ombudsman's jurisdiction to encompass matters of clinical judgment. Throughout Clothier's tenure as Ombudsman, the question continued to be wrestled over by the Select Committee and the Joint Consultants Committee without significant inroads being made into the medical profession's opposition. All the while, the number of complaints received by the Ombudsman increased: from 562 in 1979-80 to 895 in 1983-84.

Clothier dealt with notable cases during his time as Health Service Ombudsman. When a health authority found that a bogus doctor had operated on a number of patients it decided not to inform them that their operations had been performed by the 'doctor'. A complaint was made by the Patients' Association, however Clothier did not investigate on the grounds that there was no evidence that the Association was asked to complain on by any aggrieved individuals. Clothier also handled a case in which a local councillor had received an anonymous leaflet supporting fluoridation of water. It transpired, after four months, that the leaflet had emanated from the local health authority. Clothier concluded that the authorship of the leaflet should have been disclosed without delay. He understood that the councillor 'wished to know what Jove-like hand' had sent the leaflet. His verdict on the leaflet itself was damning. It was 'a very poor production and far below the standard I would expect an Authority to achieve in communication with the public'. The shame at producing the 'hopeless' leaflet did 'not excuse the subsequent administrative ineptitudes, to which only Franz Kafka could do justice. The whole episode has been a very great waste of my time and everyone else's'. One of the most serious cases investigated by Clothier concerned a complaint from a mother that her baby was born dead due to a catalogue of failures in maternity care at the hospital. Clothier decided for the first time since the establishment of the Office to hold a formal hearing and take evidence on oath. Clothier concluded that the midwives who gave evidence were untruthful. The complainant was 'shamefully neglected at her time of need' and that records of routine checks had been falsified. Clothier concluded that it was 'difficult to imagine a more serious failure in the service' as the health authority admitted that the baby could have survived if reasonable care had been given to the mother.

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