Complaints about social care assessments rising, says ombudsman

Local government ombudsman saw cases concerning assessment and care planning rise more than a third last year

More people are complaining to the local government ombudsman about the quality of social care assessments and care planning, the watchdog’s annual review shows.

The ombudsman service, which acts as a last resort for cases which have not been resolved locally, received 576 complaints about assessment and care planning in 2014-15 – an increase of more than a third on the previous year. The proportion upheld rose from 51% to 57%.

The most common complaints were about delays to care assessments and reviews, or concerns that the views of people or their families were not taken into account.

The figures cover the 12-months leading up the Care Act’s introduction in April 2015. The act gives local authorities a legal duty to involve people in the assessment and care planning process.

Overall complaints up 18%

The ombudsman received 2,803 complaints across all adult social care in 2014-15, up 18% from the previous year. These included 319 complaints about care arranged privately with independent providers and 2,484 complaints about local authorities or care commissioned by them.

More complaints were received about assessment and care planning than the other care areas where:

  • 497 complaints concerned residential care, up 25% on the previous year. Commonly about medication errors, inaccurate records or poor communication, the proportion upheld rose from 53% to 58%.
  • 297 complaints were about home care services, an increase of 60% on 2013-14. Common complaints were about home visits being cancelled or too short or care being inadequate.
  • 262 complaints related to charging for care. The ombudsman said these complaints had not increased significantly but the proportion upheld rose from 62% to 67%.
  • 258 complaints concerned safeguarding, nearly a third more than the previous year. Common complaints concerned delays in the safeguarding process and disagreements over the conclusions of investigations. The proportion upheld rose from 42% to 51%.

Local complaint procedures ‘not working properly’

The report acknowledges complaint numbers are small compared to the overall size of the social care sector, where around 1.3 million people get support. However, it also warns low numbers partly reflect poor awareness of the complaints system among people using services.

Dr Jane Martin, the local government ombudsman said the rise in complaints could be a sign people were more confident in voicing concerns.

“But, as the final stage of the process, the enquiries we receive indicate a local complaint procedure not working as it should and missed opportunities to have put things right first time around.”

Councillor Izzi Seccombe, the Local Government’s Association’s spokesperson for community wellbeing, said councils would work hard to ensure people could raise issues locally.

“However, we are concerned that despite care workers best efforts, complaints could become more frequent as the combined pressures of insufficient funding, growing demand and extra costs mean that councils will have less money for essential social care services, such as help with washing, dressing, or getting out and about,” she said.

“It is vital for our elderly and disabled population that the Government adequately funds social care in the Spending Review to ensure we are able to provide a level of care fit for the 21st century.”

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