Straight talk
Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman

Dr Jane Martin looks at adult social care complaints in 2016 and what providers can do to improve practice.

As the local government and social care ombudsman, earlier this month we issued our annual review of adult social care complaints; and we believe many of the findings within the report should make interesting reading for the care sector.

We are in the unique position of being able to investigate complaints about all adult social care regardless of how the care has been arranged or funded.

Over the past year, we received 2,969 complaints and enquiries about adult social care – a 6% increase on the previous period.

Now in its sixth operating year, our jurisdiction over care arranged privately with independent providers saw a 21% increase in the number of complaints and enquiries, and a 19% rise in the number of independent providers about whom we have received a complaint.

In some respects, we welcome this upturn in complaints and enquiries received as it indicates more people coming forward to raise their concerns. We believe this is, in part, due to the good work of the sector to approach complaints maturely, improve the visibility of their complaints procedures and signpost people to the Ombudsman.

However, this figure still only amounts to around 13% of our caseload within the adult care sector. If our statistics were to reflect the care spectrum as a whole, we would be expecting to receive even more complaints.

Our report not only examines where things have gone wrong, but also highlights the steps we have recommended to councils and providers to put things right. Last year, we made 943 recommendations to remedy injustice for individuals – this might be anything from a simple apology to financial redress and the provision of a service.

More than 200 of our recommendations (222) involved preventing a similar issue affecting other people, and this included staff training or procedural change. Of the 1,188 recommendations we made, 23 acknowledged and provided reassurance to the service provider that they had already remedied the problem satisfactorily.

What we really want is for services to be improved for all users. The learning points from complaints are a very useful way of identifying where practices need to be improved for the benefit of all clients.

Clients and their families should not have to worry that raising a concern may lead to a deterioration of their care, or their relationship with staff. We believe a good complaints service should support people to make their complaint.

Good quality social care relies on staff and managers having a positive attitude and response to hearing and resolving feedback, concerns and complaints. Staff should be open to identifying complaints and learning from them to drive service improvements.

Care homes can have detailed and soundly reasoned policies, but unless managers are clear with staff about complaints handling, and staff are aware of those policies, understand and are empowered to follow them and then learn from any complaints that might arise, the true benefit will not be felt.

Complaints about other providers are a good source of knowledge too. All our decisions can be found on our website. These offer a wealth of information about the complaints we receive, the faults we have found and the kind of remedies we recommend when we do find fault.

If you think your staff may benefit from further guidance in the area of complaints, we offer training for care providers. These courses have been specially designed to take people through the complaints process from start to finish and identify ways in which complaints can better be resolved, and the learning used to improve services.

Our website also includes template complaints letters and procedures for care providers that are free to download and adapt.

Dr Jane Martin is the Local Government Ombudsman. Twitter: @LGOmbudsman

For more information about the Local Government Ombudsman, visit www.lgo.org.uk

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