New procedures for the handling of complaints about adult social care services will cause “major problems” for local authorities, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services has warned.
Adass accused the Department of Health of giving councils too little time to prepare for the deadline of 1 April, when the system comes into effect across England.
The DH laid down regulations to enact the change in Parliament last Friday (27 February), having published a guide to the new system last Thursday.
Falls below expectations
A paper endorsed by the Adass executive council last week said: “The new single complaints procedure falls below the expectations we had of it: it doesn’t offer much practical advice for complaints handlers, compounding the problems arising from the need to implement the new system on a short timescale.”
In response, Adass has set up an emergency taskforce to support staff training and other aspects of implementation.
End of three-stage system
After 1 April, complaints about NHS services and adult social care services arranged or provided by local authorities will be brought under a single framework.
It will replace the existing three-stage system – described by the DH as “bureaucratic” – which sees councils refer the complaint upwards, ultimately to an independent review panel, if the issue cannot be resolved informally.
In order to speed up the handling of complaints and improve the learning process, councils are expected to design a more accessible, flexible system which can be tailored to the needs of individual complainants.
However, complainants dissatisfied with the outcome will still be able to approach the Local Government Ombudsman.
Peter MacMahon, deputy local government ombudsman in London, said a revised training programme was available to local authorities from the ombudsman’s office to assist in implementation.
He added: “There may be an increase in the number of complaints to the ombudsman as a result of the transition period, either due to administrative problems or because authorities are reaching people they haven’t reached before. Different authorities are at different stages of readiness.”
However, the Adass discussion paper, written by members, some of whom worked in ‘early adopter’ pilot authorities, suggested that the transition period would be marred by “serious delays and confusion”. As a result, the Adass taskforce will produce “a package of orientation and training for social care complaints practitioners as soon as is humanly possible”.
Adass president John Dixon said: “Despite the publication of the guidance, so late in the day, we have real fears that implementation will bring real confusion.”
Frances Blunden, senior policy manager at the NHS Confederation, welcomed the simplified procedures, but said the challenge lay in ensuring local organisations put the new approach into practice.
DH to unveil new health and adult care complaints system
Information on the reform of the health and social care complaints arrangements from the Department of Health website
Local Government Ombudsman