Ombudsman report highlights gulf in care services

The gulf between what the public expects and what it actually gets, when it comes to adult social care, has been starkly illustrated in the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s latest annual review of complaints.

The Ombudsman’s annual review of social care complaints – covering both councils and independent care providers across England – shows the service found fault in 72 per cent of the complaints it investigated last year.

This percentage of upheld cases is greater than the previous year (69 per cent) and 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:

“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.

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.”

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 service improvements including reviewing policies and working practices, training staff and changing public information.

Key issues for the residential care sector include:

  • Poor communication between hospitals and care homes both working in crisis conditions
  • Care settings and councils being inflexible and failing to properly communicate access to and availability of services, particularly when lockdown rules changed
  • Care providers failing to manage risk appropriately, for example around the use of PPE and with symptomatic staff.

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. In general, care homes were found to have applied visiting rules appropriately.

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 Ombudsman received and decided fewer complaints about adult social care than the previous year because of the disruption caused by COVID-19.

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.

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