A new public services ombudsman should be established with powers to probe the decisions of clinical commissioning groups and councils, the Parliamentary Health Services Ombudsman has said.

Dame Julie Mellor made the appeal alongside Local Government Ombudsman Jane Martin in an exclusive double-headed interview with HSJ.

As part of a pitch for an extended remit and combined watchdog, Dame Julie suggested the merged body should be able to instigate investigations as it sees fit, instead of them being triggered by patient complaints.

She revealed the health watchdog was on track to increase 10-fold the number of complaints it handed this year compared with 2012.

Dame Julie said both ombudsmen supported the idea of a new single public sector ombudsman with new powers to ensure it “has the right tools in the toolbox”.

She denied the extra powers would create a new regulator for health and social care.

“We would need to make sure we weren’t duplicating regulation and it would be up to us what we investigated.

“The most likely things would be commissioning decisions and personal budgets; those kinds of things that are still issues around service failure but don’t happen to be ones covered by the regulator in terms of safety and quality.

“You would need prima facie evidence of an issue and clear criteria.”

Dame Julie Mellor

One public ombudsman would make it easier for the public to navigate the system, Dame Julie said

Ms Martin added: “We all recognise the core business of an ombudsman is to remedy individual injustice and that remains our core business, but it’s how we make sure we have appropriate powers so that people, particularly the most vulnerable, have access to a remedy.

“We certainly don’t want to trample on the role of the regulators, nor in my case do I want to trample on the absolute sovereignty of local authorities. I’m very mindful of that.”

The pair claim a single public sector ombudsman is the right response to the changing landscape in health and social care, with multiple providers between the NHS and local authorities.

Such a situation left complainants unsure where to turn, they said.

Dame Julie said: “Rather than expect [the public] to navigate [the system], let’s just have one public ombudsman service where they know where they need to go.

“The public ombudsman service will sort out who are the service providers they need to investigate. Our role is absolutely about making sure individuals get access to justice.”

Ms Martin added: “We could see from the complaints coming to us that we were having to sit down and work out who was responsible and who was accountable.

“It makes sense to provide them with the best possible coherent service, that’s the great prize here.”

While primary legislation will be needed to bring about the main changes, both ombudsmen are already working closer together and have set up a joint team to investigate health and social care.

They sit on each other’s board and are looking at sharing more back office systems.

Exclusive: Ombudsman seeks new powers to investigate NHS