Scottish public service ombudsman Jim Martin is on the case

FROM investigating disgraceful hospital conditions to making sure children get free transport to school, the role of the Scottish public service ombudsman is demanding and diverse.

And the man now filling this varied and complex role is Larbert-born father-of-four, Jim Martin, who took up the position at the beginning of May.

Last month Jim released the first set of reports under his watch, and says he is ready for the tough road ahead.

"It's not the most cheery of issues that I'm dealing with, but the job is going fine so far. It was good to get the first set of reports out," said Jim.

As Scotland's public service ombudsman Jim is responsible for examinining the 4000 complaints made each year by individuals who are unhappy with public service organisations such as their local councils, the NHS, housing associations or the Scottish Government.

In his first set of reports Jim dealt with complaints made against Glasgow's Southern General Hospital and its treatment of a patient who had pressure sores the size of saucers.

Jim said it was the "worst case of pressure sores" he had ever seen, and made nine recommendations to the hospital, which included investigating why the patient's sores were not treated and providing policy and guidance for the assessment and treatment of pressure ulcers.

Any individual who cannot get a complaint resolved on a local level can turn to the public service ombudsman's office, which resolves approximately 94 per cent of all inquiries and complaints.

Last year 173 of these enquiries or complaints led to an investigation.

Jim said: "I have a team of about 50 people working with me. The three biggest areas we cover are the NHS, housing and local councils. At the moment we're also looking at adding the prison service to the bodies we monitor."

The position was created in 2002 and replaces three previous offices – the Scottish parliamentary and health service ombudsman, the local government ombudsman for Scotland and the housing association ombudsman for Scotland.

Jim added: "It's not about blame, but about making recommendations and trying to improve services.

''Already it's been a great learning curve. I need to find out how all the agencies work and how they can implement change.

''I have a really good team here who have specialist knowledge as well as external advisers who are there to give advice."

Ultimately, the final decision lies with Jim, who puts his findings before the Scottish Parliament.

And, while he does not have enforcement powers, if changes are not made the agencies under scrutiny would need to explain why.

Jim's current position is far removed from his first role as an economics and modern studies teacher at Falkirk High School, but he says it is the public service element, which has run through most of his previous jobs, that he enjoys the most.

Now living in Lenzie, he is a former general secretary of the EIS teaching union and chairman of IT services company Logica, as well as a member of the Scottish Funding Council.

Before taking up his present position, Jim served for two years as Scotland's first independent police complaints commissioner, a role he implemented from creation.

He said: "In my previous position I had to start from scratch as it was a new position which came with its own challenges, whereas this role has been going for a few years. Both are stressful, but I thrive on that."