Providers missing out on learning opportunities, ombudsman finds

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman

Independent care providers are missing out on valuable learning and potential improvement opportunities to their services.

During 2019-20, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman received 3,073 complaints and enquiries about adult social care. However, only 430 were from people who arranged their care privately with independent providers.

The disproportionately low number of complaints about independent operators means the sector is missing out on learning opportunities, the ombudsman’s annual report said.

It upheld 69% of the 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 report, Annual Review of Adult Social Care Complaints, said: ‘We saw familiar areas of concern within those complaints: charging for care, safeguarding, assessment and care planning and residential and home care services.’

Care providers and councils complied with recommendations in 99.1% of cases. However, it raised concerns that in 18% of cases this had been late.

The ombudsman is 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.

Ombudsman Michael King 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.’

Calling for mandatory signposting, King said the levels of engagement varied ‘considerably’ and was placing greater burdens on more conscientious providers while allowing weaker operators to avoid public accountability.

Professor Martin Green, Care England chief executive, said: ‘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.

‘There are some interesting recommendations and we look forward to discussing how mandatory signposting would work. During the pandemic the sector has worked extremely hard to deliver the best possible care and I want to pay tribute to the adult social care workforce for its incredibly hard work.’