Ombudsman reports ‘relentless rise’ in social care complaints as families let down by local services


Measures employed by councils and care providers to balance the books has led to a “relentless rise” in social care complaints, according to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO).

In its latest annual review of complaints, published today, the ombudsman said there is a “gulf” between what the public expects and what it gets, when it comes to social care, and that the system is “progressively failing” people and their families.

Between April 2020 and March 2021, the ombudsman received 2,033 complaints and enquiries about adult social care.

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That was down on the year before due to the pandemic, but the proportion of upheld complaints rose from 69% to nearly 72%.

The ombudsman said this shows a “relentless rise” over the last decade in the proportion of cases in which care users and their families have been let down by local services.

Faults the ombudsman finds in its investigations are often not due to one-off errors caused by staff under pressure, but are increasingly caused by the measures employed by councils and care providers to “mitigate the squeeze on their resources”, according to the annual review.

Michael King (pictured), Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “Viewed through the lens of complaints from the public, and our impartial findings, the adult social care system is progressively failing to deliver for those who need it most.

“Increasingly it is a system where exceptional and sometimes unorthodox measures are being deployed simply to balance the books – a reality we see frequently pleaded in their defence by the councils and care providers we investigate.

“At a time of such pressure, it is now more important than ever to listen to public concerns in the form of complaints: they provide free intelligence to spot problems and drive improvement.

“Following on from the recent government announcement, I hope this report and the evidence it contains can help contribute to the debate about what a more sustainable care system will look like in the future.”

Other emerging themes in the complaints review included delayed assessments preventing timely discharge from hospital and moves between providers; poor communication between hospitals and care homes; care settings and councils being inflexible and failing to properly communicate access to and availability of services; and care providers failing to manage risk.

Commenting on the report, ADASS president Stephen Chandler said: “Whenever older and disabled people, carers and families do not experience the high-quality care and support that they expect, it is essential that their concerns are listened to and addressed. 

“We welcome this report. The Ombudsman is right to stress the importance of learning from such cases and we support the call for greater awareness of how to express concerns.

“This report quotes the latest ADASS Spring Survey which cites the ‘growing disconnect between increasing social care need and the financial ability and confidence of Directors to meet that need’ and underlines the urgent need for funding and reform that ensures that councils have the resources required to meet the needs of their local communities.”

Tags : complaintsLocal Government and Social Care Ombudsman
Sarah Clarke

The author Sarah Clarke