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Fear over systemic problems as social care complaints increase

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The local government and social care ombudsman is increasingly concerned with the way councils are dealing with financial and demand pressures, after a review of complaints showed a shift away from “one-off mistakes” to problems with systems, policies and procedures.

While overall complaints and enquiries about social care increased in 2017-18 by just 1% to 3,106, ombudsman Michael King found fault in 62% of the cases investigated, 20% more than in 2010-11.

The number of completed investigations resulting in the ombudsman recommending staff training or changes to policies and procedures rose to 274, a 19% increase on 2016-17.

In total, 40% of complaints in 2017-18 resulted in the ombudsman suggesting changes to address systemic problems and improve services.

The review found a 9% annual increase in complaints about charging, with 67% upheld compared to an average overall uphold rate for social care complaints of 62%. The overall rate for all complaints investigated by the ombudsman is 57%.

Complaints and enquiries about adult social care have risen by 169% since 2010-11.

Mr King said the evidence suggested the profile of complaints are moving from one-off mistakes to systemic failures or procedures not being applied correctly.

He said: “Adult social care has seen sustained high levels of complaints upheld compared to our general work.

“We know authorities are operating under an enormous amount of pressure and financial challenge to deliver care services. The stark reality of this is now playing out in the complaints we see.”

However, Mr King said there was just one instance of a council or care provider failing to comply with his recommendations.

Lancashire CC was the subject of the most complaints with 80, of which 78% were upheld. The second highest number of complaints were made against Essex CC (70), with 58% upheld.

A total of 15 councils which were the subject of 10 or more complaints had all of them upheld. Of these, Croydon LBC was the subject of the most complaints (23).

Of the 152 councils with social care responsibility, 48 had an uphold rate of 80% or more.

Responding to the review, the Care Quality Commission’s chief inspector of adult social care Andrea Sutcliffe said: “In the current challenging circumstances for adult social care, it’s more important than ever that those in charge of running and commissioning care services actively listen and learn from people’s experiences, concerns and complaints.

“CQC sees regular evidence of this in the four fifths of adult social care services currently rated as good or outstanding across the country, but as this report from the local government and social care ombudsman once again highlights this isn’t the case for everyone.”

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