The health and local government ombudsmen are, by their own admission, working with out-of-date laws and cannot respond effectively to people's complaints in modernised public services.

Speaking to the select committee on public administration last week, the two ombudsmen presented a united front in calling for a commission of public service ombudsmen to provide a one-stop shop for complaints.

Michael Buckley, health service ombudsman, and Edward Osmotherly, local government ombudsman, said current laws inhibited them from jointly investigating and reporting on complaints that crossed health and social care boundaries.

Mr Osmotherly said: 'Suppose you have a patient who receives poor treatment in a hospital, goes home to find that they have not got necessary adaptations from the local authority and has a problem with their benefits.

Today, they would have to report to three different ombudsmen.

'This is not fictional. Last year in dealing with such a case, I wrote a report on the local authority and Mr Buckley on the health trust. This is a waste of public money.'

Mr Buckley added: 'The time has come for a spring clean of the legislation. It dates back to 1967 and it is now out of date.'

The proposal for a commission of public sector ombudsmen comes from a review published in April by the Cabinet Office and was sent out for three months' consultation on 15 June.

It would bring together the parliamentary ombudsman, the health service ombudsman and three local government ombudsmen, currently three separate offices, under new primary legislation.

The review was written on the initiative of the ombudsmen, who say the public should be allowed to approach them directly, rather than through their MPs, and calls for more flexible responses to complaints, such as letter writing.

Mr Buckley said that the public probably got limited value for money from the£13m annually allocated to his office. Complaints took too long to investigate, he admitted when questioned by MPs.

Improvements had been made in staffing and the speed with which complaints were dealt with, but this was limited by the law, he said. 'We are resolving more cases informally rather than going to a full investigation.

'I believe we are acting within the act but I believe we are straining it.'

Review of the Public Sector Ombudsmen in England: a consultation paper. www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk