How service user complaints are helping social workers improve their practice

Enfield council is improving its social care service by learning the lessons from upheld complaints, says Nicholas Foster

By Nicholas Foster

In the London Borough of Enfield, service users are encouraged to provide feedback of their experience, including through complaints, and this is translating into improvements in social care policy and practice.

Service users are given the opportunity to contact the team responsible for providing the service to discuss any dissatisfaction. If the matter is not resolved they can then contact the complaints team, either in writing, in person, online or via telephone.

The complaints team will make arrangements for a senior manager to contact the customer to discuss the complaint and agree the method and timeframe for resolution.

Staff are generally supportive of the complaints process and the complaints team organise and deliver regular training to ensure effective complaints handling across the department.

However, the complaints team’s role is broader than this, and extends to helping the council’s operational social care teams improve their practice by capturing useful information from the consideration of complaints which have been upheld (wholly or partly).

This process involves an analysis of the original complaint, associated correspondence, response letter and any relevant information gathered during the course of the investigation.

Where appropriate, the complaints manager and managers from several services meet to discuss learning and agree actions regarding specific complaints.

The operational manager highlights the lessons learnt from the complaint and identifies actions that are required to ensure that any practice or service improvements are implemented and that the information is shared across the directorate.

Information gathered through these learning processes is analysed and presented in regular reports, and action plans are then prepared and monitored throughout the year.

How services have changed in response to complaints 

Our services have changed in a number of ways as a result of feedback from complaints.

The way in which we invoice for meals on wheels has been reviewed and revised to make it easier for users of the service to understand.

Following a concern raised about the provision of home care to a service user with dementia, it has been agreed that, for this vulnerable group, there will be a joint handover period when regular carers are going to be on holiday;

A number of people had contacted us to say that they had not fully understood the charging arrangements for care provided following hospital discharge, which has resulted in a new leaflet being produced and greater communication between hospital social work staff and our finance team.

Following a complaint about lack of information about care home fees and failure of the care home to provide access to service users’ records, a new statement of terms and conditions to all residential care homes for which the council is the registered provider was issued. This statement includes information on the full charge for the service and advises prospective residents that a financial assessment will be undertaken to determine their contribution. The council has also written to its contracted providers of social care services to ensure that they comply with this

The department continues to improve systems to ensure that lessons learned from complaints are shared and embedded effectively across and between services, including reducing repeat complaints. This will be further explored at an organisational learning event being held in May 2014.

Nicholas Foster is complaints and member enquiries manager, Health, Housing and Adult Social Care, London Borough of Enfield 

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