Healthwatch research into council complaints

August 28, 2019

Following research into council complaints, Healthwatch is urging local authorities to promote a culture of learning from the complaints they receive about social care.

As part of Quality Matters, a sector-wide commitment to improving social care, Healthwatch has committed to helping foster a culture of learning from feedback and complaints in care services.

To support this work, the organisation investigated how local authorities in England learn from complaints by looking into their annual complaints reports.

Local authorities focus on reporting the number of complaints they receive, rather than communicating what they are learning, says Healthwatch, which is now calling for complaints managers to be given more support to demonstrate how councils respond to feedback from care home residents to help make improvements.

Initially, the research into council complaints looked at how easy the reports were to access. Healthwatch found that, of 152 local authorities, only 55 reports were made publicly available in 2017/18, compared with 72 the previous year.

Many of these reports lacked investigation into why complaints were being made, the frequency of specific or common complaints and how to achieve a resolution, and Healthwatch found a lack of consistency in approach, making it impossible to understand national trends or learn from comparisons between councils.

'Complaints can be scary for organisations to deal with, often requiring services to accept that things have not gone according to plan.' says Jacob Lant, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Healthwatch England, 'But they also present a huge opportunity to identify and tackle the root causes, and make sure others don’t have the same negative experience in future.

'The key to building a transparent and positive culture around complaints is to focus on this story of improvement, highlighting to service users that their feedback matters and that if they speak up it will lead to change.

'We are keen to use this report to support local authority complaint managers in their work, providing them with a catalyst to help foster a culture of learning in every council in England.'

Julie Ogley, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) said, 'ADASS welcomes the findings of this Healthwatch report. It’s really important to our members that people feel able to raise any concerns and, importantly, that they’re encouraged to do so by everyone involved in care.'

Read the full report. 

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