The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) has said it has "not agreed" that NHS Fife can suspend patient complaint handling.

The organisation hit back after a director of the health board said at a Fife NHS Board meeting that both the SPSO and Scottish Government have agreed that they can pause some of the process as it was acknowledged that the health board would not be able to meet target deadlines.

NHS Fife announced a number of measures that has been taken last month to help reduce the unprecedented pressures on healthcare provision and protect urgent care and cancer services, including patient complaints.

They stated that complaints will "continue to be acknowledged and registered, however compliant investigation and formal responses will be paused at this time."

Speaking last Tuesday, NHS Fife director of nursing, Janette Owens, said: “Complaints are really challenging now as people who write reports are tied up. We will not be able to meet timescales. SPSO and the Scottish Government have agreed that.

“We are working hard to make it as timely as it can be and maintain communication that complaints will be delayed.”

SPSO have recently written to bodies under their jurisdiction recently reminding them that public service complaint handling is a legislative requirement and giving some advice on how to deal with ongoing resource pressures during/post pandemic.

A spokesperson from the organisation said: "I am writing with regards to your article ‘NHS Fife suspends patient complaints after Covid pressure’, which was published on 30 September.

"In it you wrote: 'The Scottish Government and Scottish Public Services Ombudsman have agreed that they can pause some of the process after it was acknowledged that the health board would not be able to meet target deadlines'.

"This is not correct; I can only speak for the SPSO, not the government, but we have not agreed to the board suspending complaint handling."

SPSO have reinforced that five working-day and 20 working-day timescales for handling complaints still stand, and flexibility with expanding timescales has certain conditions.

NHS Fife Director of Nursing, Janette Owens, said: “The healthcare system in Fife, like in other parts of the country, has come under increasing strain with the pressures on services at present greater than at any other stage in our response to the pandemic.

"We are hopeful that the postponement of all affected services will be brief, with the measures remaining under continual review to ensure full services can be recommenced as it is safe to do so.

“We remain committed to delivering a quality complaints service and will continue to accept and acknowledge all feedback and complaints and share these with the relevant clinical services.

"It is likely that in some cases it will take us longer than the national timescales to review and investigate matters, and where we anticipate any delays, we will ensure complainants are kept informed at every stage.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We expect NHS Boards to comply with their legal duty under the Patient Rights (Scotland) Act 2011 with regard to complaints handling; however the NHS Complaints Handling Procedure does make provision for timescales of responses to complaints to be extended where appropriate.

“We have been supportive of Boards taking this approach since the start of the pandemic which has been the most significant challenge the NHS has faced in its 73-year history.

"We are working proactively with health boards to manage pressures.”