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Ombudsman input to CMA care home market study

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has submitted its response to the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) invitation to comment on initial findings from its study of the care homes market.

Last month the CMA issued its preliminary findings into the review, saying people are struggling to make decisions about their care because they are not receiving the right information. It also found complaints procedures are not functioning well, people who live in care homes are less likely to complain, and some care homes have not been treating residents fairly.

The Ombudsman’s unique position at the apex of the social care complaints process enables it to identify systemic issues and common themes. It shares the findings from its investigations so councils and care providers can learn and improve. The initial CMA findings closely echo concerns the Ombudsman has highlighted in recent years about the adult social care and care homes sector.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“We welcome and agree with the study’s initial findings and recommendations, a number of which we have previously publicly called for.

“Making the complaints system work well is not only about processes. It is largely about culture. That’s the way frontline staff respond to initial concerns from care users and families, and the attitude to, and ownership of, concerns and complaints by managers, and their willingness to learn from them.

“Staff should be equipped with the tools they need to respond to concerns and complaints confidently and be empowered to resolve matters quickly. Managers, directors and board members should actively own complaints, monitor trends and implement learning.

“To reach our service, a person may have already overcome a number of barriers, perceived or real, to raise their complaint at the local level.

“That’s why, for a number of years, we’ve been calling for councils and care providers to make the complaints process more visible, easier to navigate, and with a greater access to advocacy services for those who wish to complain about the services they receive.”

Adult social care complaints keep increasing. Last year the Ombudsman received over 3,000 – that’s 3% up on the previous year. More than 600 of those were about residential care homes.

It’s not just about numbers though. What matters is the outcome of the complaints investigated in detail and last year the Ombudsman upheld 63% of social care ones. That compares with 53% for all complain types. For those about residential care homes, 67% were upheld and that’s 9% up on the previous year.

Key points from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s response:

  • Reviewing the lessons from complaints as a standing item at board and local government scrutiny committees – would hold providers to account for the service they provide and for the improvements they deliver in response to feedback.
  • Adopting a single complaint statement across the sector, provided at the time the service is being delivered – would ensure service users know about their right to complain to the provider and their right to seek the view of an independent ombudsman if they remain unhappy with the response to their complaint.
  • Introducing a statutory signposting requirement for adult social care providers, as other sectors have done – would shift the burden of ensuring users understand the complaints process from the users themselves to the provider. This could be an important first step to ensure service users, families and representatives understand how to complain and know there is an independent avenue to seek redress when complaints are not resolved locally.
  • Extending advocacy to social care complaints, in line with health complaints advocacy – would give users access to greater support and reassurance when considering making a complaint and would help ensure there is a consolidated, independent advocacy service for users of an increasingly integrated health and social care system.
  • Developing tools and training to support and equip care providers ahead of prescribing defined model complaint handling processes – would encourage providers to take ownership of their complaints procedures and recognises that a procedure which suits a large, national provider is unlikely to suit a single, small care home.
  • Exploring and capitalising on opportunities to share best practice in complaint handling across the sector – would help reduce the feeling many providers have of being isolated from peers dealing with similar issues in a social care market that’s vast and disparate.
  • Requiring social care providers and commissioners to produce an annual review report of complaints - would support ownership of the first tier system and encourage accountability and scrutiny by local authorities, local Healthwatch organisations, the boards of care providers and CQC.
  • Mandating a data return to CQC and the Ombudsman from all social care providers about complaint patterns and outcomes – would shine a spotlight on local complaint handling, help providers demonstrate the impact and difference that complaining can make and provide a tool for national oversight of the complaints system.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigates complaints about social care, however it is funded or delivered. It remedies individual injustice and improves local public, and adult social care, services. Its investigations change services for the better.

Article date: 24 July 2017