Communication issues behind record number of complaints, says Ombudsman

The Office of the Ombudsman received a record number of complaints in 2021
Communication issues behind record number of complaints, says Ombudsman

Vivienne Clarke

Ombudsman Ger Deering has blamed poor or lack of communication for the majority of complaints addressed by his office.

Mr Deering, commenting on his first report in the role, told both Newstalk Breakfast and RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland that a record number of complaints had been made in 2021.

A record 4,004 complaints, the highest number ever in the office’s 38-year history, were made about services provided by government departments, local authorities and the HSE last year.

At a time when the country was going through a pandemic, it was important “when something goes wrong” that people were able to contact public bodies “at the coal face”, Mr Deering said.

The fact that some public bodies, such as the Department of Social Protection and the HSE, had managed to engage with people during the pandemic showed that it could be done, he added, asking that bodies learn from complaints and make changes to improve as necessary.

The Ombudsman explained that many complaints were resolved at an early stage, and if not, they were investigated and a recommendation was issued.

Recommendations were not legally binding, he acknowledged, however, it is expected that public bodies implement them.

When asked if he wanted his office to have stronger powers to insist that recommendations be implemented, Mr Deering said he was happy for the current situation to continue.

Breakdown in communication was a factor in a number of cases he gave as examples, including one in which a nursing home had carried out a thorough investigation when a dementia patient strayed, however, the facility failed to respond to requests from the family for an explanation of the matter.

Mr Deering also described the HSE as “over bureaucratic and unreasonable” in some cases of the Treatment Abroad scheme.

Communication was also at the heart of difficulties with the Passport Office, he said, adding that more complaints had been received in relation to passport delays so far this year than all of last year.

The issues, he said, highlight that people need to be able to access information.

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