The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman is calling for more to be done to help the adult social care sector capitalise on the valuable learning complaints can bring, in its annual review.
The Annual Review of Adult Social Care Complaints details the trends the Ombudsman has seen in the complaints it has received about adult social care in England during 2019-20.
Over the period the Ombudsman received 3,073 complaints and enquiries, but of those, only 430 were from people who arranged their care privately with independent providers.
The disproportionately low number of complaints about independent providers means the independent sector is missing out on an untapped seam of valuable learning and potential improvements to their services.
Michael King, local government and social care ombudsman, said: ‘We’re pleased with how the adult care sector has worked with us to make almost 600 improvements to its services last year, which were agreed in our investigations.
‘This is 7% more than the previous year, and they include things such as policy changes and staff training.
‘However, people who fund their own care are still underrepresented in the complaints we see, and the number has plateaued for the past couple of years. Each missed complaint is a lost opportunity to improve care services.’
The ombudsman said it upheld 69% of those complaints it investigated in detail, higher than the average uphold figure of 62% across all the organisation’s work.
That uphold rate rose to 71% for cases specifically about independently provided care.
The ombudsman is now calling for the government to use the planned social care reforms to require providers to tell people, if they are unhappy with the services they are receiving, how to complain not only to the providers themselves but also how to escalate that complaint to the Ombudsman.
Mr King said: ‘Mandatory signposting will also be better for businesses.
‘The social care complaints system in England is not a voluntary scheme but the current level of engagement varies considerably.
‘This is placing greater burdens on more conscientious providers while allowing weaker operators to avoid public accountability.
‘This undermines fair competition and consumer choice. Instead, there should be a level playing field, where the rules are applied consistently – in the best interests of users and businesses.’
Healthwatch England’s national director, Imelda Redmond CBE said: ‘It is important that care users understand how to complain about the services they receive, and that providers use this feedback as an opportunity to identify and tackle the root causes of complaints.
‘Statutory signposting would help to develop a learning culture in social care, improve understanding of the role of the Ombudsman and drive service improvements.’
Professor Martin Green OBE, CEO, Care England added: ‘We always welcome any new learning that providers can take from these reports and similarly we welcome the annual review which brings everything together.
‘We will be sure to share the report with our members.’
Responding to the review, cllr Ian Hudspeth, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said:
‘Councils and the care providers they commission have been working hard, especially during the pandemic, to support those who use and work in adult social care.
‘This is despite continued funding and demand pressures, which existed prior to the coronavirus outbreak. It is good that providers continue to work with the Ombudsman in its investigations, to make improvements to their services.
‘Any future reforms of adult social care must apply the lessons learned from coronavirus, as well as address the issues of fairness in how we pay for these vital services. These include people who fund their own care.
‘Social care needs parity of esteem with the NHS, backed up by a genuine, long-term and sustainable funding settlement, which councils have been calling for long before the current crisis.
‘Cross-party talks on the future of adult social care must start as soon as possible.’
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