Who is the Patient Ombudsman?
In the Polish legal system, there are several different bodies whose primary task is to protect certain private and public entities. We are, of course, talking about various ombudsmen and offices that assist in their work. One of them is the Patient Ombudsman – who is he and what functions does he exactly perform?
Every patient in Poland has the right to an appropriate medical service, provided by qualified private or public personnel. In practice, however, various situations occur and patient rights may be violated to a greater or lesser extent. It is also not uncommon for medical errors to occur for which doctors and nurses are responsible.
To fully regulate patient rights and the scope of medical liability, the Act of 6 November 2008 on Patient Rights and Patient Ombudsman was adopted. According to Article 2 of the aforementioned Act, the observance of patients’ rights set out in the Act is the responsibility of public authorities competent in the field of health protection, the National Health Fund, entities providing health services, medical professionals and other persons involved in the provision of health services.
To maximise the protection of patients in Poland, a special body called the Patient Ombudsman was established. We can compare it to other Polish ombudsmen, including the Consumer Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Civil Rights. The primary duty of such entities is, of course, to maintain guard over compliance with specific legal provisions.
By Article 42(1) of the Act referred to above, the Patient Ombudsman is a central organ of government administration responsible for the protection of patients’ rights laid down in this Act and separate regulations.
The Ombudsman may be a person who meets the following criteria:
- has at least higher education and a professional degree of Master or another equivalent degree;
- has not been validly convicted of an intentional crime;
- his or her health is such that he or she can properly perform the duties of Ombudsman;
- have knowledge and experience that give reasonable assurance of the proper performance of the Ombudsman’s duties.
The Ombudsman may not:
- occupy any other post, except that of professor of higher education, or engage in any other professional occupation;
- belong to a political party;
- engage in any public activity incompatible with the duties and dignity of his office.
The Ombudsman is appointed by the Prime Minister from among persons selected through an open and competitive recruitment process.
Terms of reference of the Patients’ Rights Ombudsman
The scope of the Ombudsman for Patients’ Rights includes:
- conducting proceedings in cases of practices infringing collective patient rights
- conducting inquiries
- carrying out tasks in civil cases;
- protecting the rights of patients who receive health services provided by psychiatric hospitals;
- developing and submitting to the Council of Minister’s draft legislation on the protection of patient rights;
- requesting competent authorities to take legislative initiative or to issue or amend legal acts in the field of patient rights protection;
- developing and issuing publications and educational programs that popularize knowledge about patient rights protection
- cooperating with public authorities to ensure that patient’s rights are respected, in particular with the minister responsible for health matters
- providing evaluations and proposals to competent public authorities, organisations and institutions as well as local governments of medical professions to ensure effective protection of patient rights
- cooperation with non-governmental, social and professional organisations whose statutory objectives include the protection of patient rights
- cooperation in respect of observing patient rights with entities providing health services
- analysis of patients’ complaints to identify threats and areas in the health care system that require rectification
- performance of other tasks specified in legal regulations or commissioned by the Prime Minister.
It is worth emphasizing here that the authorities and institutions to which the Ombudsman has addressed requests are obliged to respond to these requests within 30 days of their receipt.
The Ombudsman may process any information, including personal data, necessary for the performance of his statutory duties. The Ombudsman shall process personal data solely to protect patients’ rights in carrying out the tasks assigned to him. The controller of such data is the Patient Ombudsman himself.
Personal data shall be subject to safeguards against misuse or unlawful access or transfer consisting at least of:
- the controller authorising only persons authorised in writing to process personal data;
- a written obligation of persons authorised to process personal data to keep them confidential;
- regular testing and improvement of the technical and organisational measures used.
The Ombudsman may request the Ombudsman or the Children’s Ombudsman to take action within their respective fields of competence. Please note, however, that the Patient Ombudsman and his deputies may not carry out activities incompatible with their office.