Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Case Study Back to resource hub
Established nearly 50 years ago, The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) comprises the offices of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (PCA) and the Health Service Commissioner for England (HSC). The Ombudsman is responsible for considering complaints by the public that UK Government departments, public authorities and the National Health Service in England have not acted properly or fairly or have provided a poor service.
The PHSO was initially set up to investigate complaints that individuals had been treated unfairly or received poor service from UK central government departments and agencies. In 1993 complaints about the NHS in England were added to its remit and now make up almost 80% of the organisation’s work.
Telephony challenges and drivers for change
For seven years the PHSO had a traditional phone system in place that covered two sites and around 500 seats at the Millbank Tower in London and an office in Manchester. The system had run its time, was increasingly vulnerable to power outages, and did not provide the modern functionality that the PHSO needed to best serve the people using its services.
“The time came to change the phone system because it wasn’t particularly robust and lacked any capacity for growth and flexibility,” explains PHSO IT Services Manager, Nicky Dowland. “Also it didn’t have any modern features such as detailed reporting and analysis, call recording and didn’t integrate with our case work management system.”
People learning more about or using the PHSO make contact with the organisation in several ways, including calling a helpline, sending a text for a ‘call back’ service, making a complaint online or by downloading and completing an online form.
“The phone system is pivotal to the operation of the PHSO because we rely on it for incoming calls from people wishing to learn more about our service or to begin the process of making a complaint,” says Nicky. “We also use it to contact people, as well as government bodies and other organisations we’re in touch with regularly, such as the NHS.
“For many people getting in contact by phone is often their first preference because it enables them to learn more about our services and the help available whilst being reassuringly private. Our staff often deal with many sensitive issues and people are initially wary of completing forms – they want an instantaneous conversation.”
The procurement process – G-Cloud and the Digital Marketplace
The PHSO began the process of looking for an alternative phone system in May 2015 with a view to having in place a new system for the beginning of 2016.
“We began our search by looking on G-Cloud and using terms such as Telephony, VoIP and Unified Communications,” explains Nicky. “This initially brought up 80 potential providers. We then started to narrow the search with specific requirements such as a Tier 3 Data Centre capability and contractual commitments.”
By July 2015 the PHSO had whittled the list down to three potential providers, including Foehn. “We made contact with Foehn as they clearly ticked all the boxes in our ‘essential’ and ‘desirable requirements’ and then held a clarification meeting in August,” says Nicky. “There were several areas where we liked the look of Foehn, including the company’s iterative approach to Open Source, its flexibility and also the ability to integrate the phone system into our management system.
“From a cost perspective, the flat pricing model – with everything included rather than having additional items bolted on for an additional fee – was also attractive.”
Transformation and improvement of services
The contract was awarded and Foehn was tasked with providing a cloud phone system for over 500 seats, 300 at the Millbank office and 200 in Manchester, as well as two call centres with 24 and nine seats. The system went live in January 2016 as planned.
“What we have now is a fully functioning system with staff using some Polycom handsets but also softphones and headsets,” says Nicky. “Most importantly it will integrate into our new case management system providing call recording and accurate call reporting and analysis. Where previously we could not record calls, now we will be able to attach call recordings which is particularly helpful when handling cases and staff need to check back. Where before we had no idea how many calls investigators were making, now we have complete visibility.
“Overall the new phone system has enabled us to improve productivity, increase efficiencies and enable us to deliver a more reliable and better service to people.”
Whilst not the main driver for change, the solution offered by Foehn has enabled the PHSO to significantly lower their costs and deliver better for less as a result of switching to a modern IP (Internet Protocol) telephony system that is also delivering far more flexibility and features than its previous telephony set-up.
The solution supplied means that apportioning costs is now much simpler, with each extension and call cost associated with that extension invoiced monthly and directly to the relevant cost centre.
“Furthermore, we are now saving in the region of £50,000 per annum and yet still we have a lot more functionality and features compared to our previous phone system,” explains Nicky.