Rise in upheld complaints reflects ‘failing’ social care system, Ombudsman says

Watchdog says there is a gulf between what the public expects and what it actually gets when it comes to adult social care.

29/09/21

Rise in upheld complaints reflects ‘failing’ social care system, Ombudsman says

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) has lambasted a “failing” social care system in its latest annual review of complaints.

Published today, the Ombudsman’s annual review – covering both councils and independent care providers across England – shows the service found fault in more than seven in ten of the complaints it investigated last year.

The amount of upheld cases – where the local authority or independent care provider was found to be at fault – is 3% higher than the previous year (69%), which the Ombudsman says shows a “relentless rise” over the last decade in the proportion of cases in which care users and their families have been let down by local services.

The faults the Ombudsman finds in its investigations are often not due to one-off errors caused by staff working under pressure, but are increasingly caused by the measures employed by councils and care providers to mitigate the squeeze on their resources.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said exceptional measures are increasingly being used to “balance the books”.

“Viewed through the lens of complaints from the public, and our impartial findings, the adult social care system is progressively failing to deliver for those who need it most.

“Increasingly it is a system where exceptional and sometimes unorthodox measures are being deployed simply to balance the books – a reality we see frequently pleaded in their defence by the councils and care providers we investigate.

“At a time of such pressure, it is now more important than ever to listen to public concerns in the form of complaints: they provide free intelligence to spot problems and drive improvement.

“Following on from the recent Government announcement, I hope this report and the evidence it contains can help contribute to the debate about what a more sustainable care system will look like in the future.”

In the last financial year, councils and care providers operated under the fast-evolving backdrop of COVID-19. Early signs from the Ombudsman’s completed cases, and those it continues to receive, about COVID-19 suggest the sector overall responded well to the unprecedented challenges it faced. However, what the data also suggest is the pandemic intensified existing issues rather than created a raft of new ones.

In 2020-21 the Ombudsman received 2,033 complaints and enquiries about adult social care. This included 270 about independent care providers, where the person arranged and paid for their own care. As in all areas of its casework, last year the watchdog received and decided fewer complaints about adult social care than the previous year because of the disruption caused by COVID-19.

The Ombudsman made 1,642 individual recommendations to put things right in adult social care investigations last year, of which around a third (546) were aimed at improving services for everyone. Common examples of service improvements include reviewing policies and working practices, training staff and changing public information.

Responding to the LGSCO’s annual report, Stephen Chandler, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), said he welcomed the report and that the Ombudsman was right to stress the importance of learning from such cases.

“Whenever older and disabled people, carers and families do not experience the high-quality care and support that they expect, it is essential that their concerns are listened to and addressed,” Chandler said, adding that ADASS supported the call for greater awareness of how to express concerns.

"This report quotes the latest ADASS Spring Survey which cites the ‘growing disconnect between increasing social care need and the financial ability and confidence of Directors to meet that need’ and underlines the urgent need for funding and reform that ensures that councils have the resources required to meet the needs of their local communities.”

The Ombudsman’s annual review provides good practice and guidance on how councils and care providers – as well councillors and boards who scrutinise those organisations – can make the most of complaints to improve services. Read the full report (PDF): https://www.lgo.org.uk/assets/attach/6132/ASC-Review-2020-21-vF.pdf

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