Junior doctors are endangering patients' lives by failing to seek help from consultants when they are out of their depth, the Health Service Ombudsman said yesterday.

Michael Buckley cited the case of a woman who developed complications after a gynaecological operation. She was admitted to hospital when her condition deteriorated but six junior doctors who were involved failed to ask a consultant for advice. The woman was transferred to the intensive care unit at Mid Staffordshire General Hospital the next morning, where she died later that day.

In his annual report, Mr Buckleyupheld a complaint from the woman's family, highlighting a series of shortcomings and criticised junior medical staff for not seeking opinions.

Mr Buckley revealed that his office received 2,595 complaints last year, of which 241 were investigated. Of the 204 investigations completed, more than three-quarters were about clinical decisions and two-thirds of the grievances were upheld. Six cases were reported in which junior doctors failed to call on superiors for advice, which he said was not surprising because so much health care was delivered by trainee doctors.

Among the reasons for failing to call upon senior clinicians was pressure of work, lack of availability of a consultant, errors of judgement and confusion over on-call arrangements.

Mr Buckley said: "These shortcomings did not determine the outcome of the cases, but did affect the standard of care." But he called on senior clinical staff to make sure junior staff had the support and supervision they needed.

He noted the link between the shortcomings in care delivery and the lack of resources. But he said: "The fact that resources are limited does not automatically exonerate the body concerned from responsibility for poor service or treatment."