Residential care and home care are the two largest areas of complaints to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, according to its annual review for 2017-18.
However, of 3,106 complaints and enquiries received last year, complaints about residential care were down slightly (1.8 per cent) on the year before, accounting for 598 complaints. Complaints about home care, however, were up 5.5 per cent to 382.
After review, some 68 per cent of complaints relating to residential social care were upheld by the ombudsman, which compares to an average complaint upheld rate for social care as a whole of 62 per cent.
Of the recommendations made by the ombudsman, 274 advised improving procedures or undertake staff training, which is a 20 per cent rise on the previous year. Some 40 per cent of complaints remedied included service improvements to tackle systemic problems.
Ombudsman Michael King said: “Assessment and care planning, and how care is paid for, remain some of the biggest areas of complaint. Even more concerning is that the issues we see demonstrate a shift from one-off mistakes to problems with whole systems and policies, or procedures being incorrectly applied.
“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.”
Among the key recommendations made:
- Property should not be taken into account when assessing a person’s ability to pay for the first 12 weeks of their stay in a care home.
- People should be offered clear information about the care choices available to them. Choices should include at least one ‘affordable’ option where a top up fee is not required.
- Clear procedures should be in place to guide staff on how to consider cases for deprivation of assets.
- There may be risks to commissioning models that rely on single or small numbers of care providers; steps to mitigate risks should be put in place.
- New financial assessments should take place when people’s circumstances change to avoid incorrect charges being made.
- Contracts should detail clearly how all care charges have been arrived at in line with new guidance from the Competition and Markets Authority.
In the report, the LGSCO acknowledges the positive action taken by the vast majority of councils and care providers to accept and implement its recommendations as learnings. Among these the review highlights the case of Abbey Healthcare (Huntingdon) Ltd, which was found to have unfairly administered an NHS Funded Nursing Care (FNC) payment. The case prompted practical guidance for all care providers..
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Commenting on the guidance, King said: “Rising numbers of complaints may be a positive by-product of people feeling able to speak up and raise concerns because councils and care providers demonstrate to them a willingness to listen and learn from feedback. Equally, the increase may be indicative of poorer quality care and experiences.”