Sector missing opportunities to improve adult care

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman is urging for more to be done to help the adult social care sector capitalise on the valuable learning complaints can bring.

The Annual Review of Adult Social Care Complaints details the trends that the Ombudsman has seen in the complaints it has received about adult social care in England during 2019-20. Over that period, the Ombudsman received 3,073 complaints and enquiries. 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.

The Ombudsman upheld 69 per cent of those complaints it investigated in detail – higher than the average uphold figure of 62 per cent across all the organisation’s work. That uphold rate rose to 71 per cent for cases specifically about independently provided care.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care 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.

He 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 seven per cent 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.

“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.”

Martin Green, CEO of 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.”

Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the LGA’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.”