Patchy complaints support is putting vulnerable people at risk

New research finds just one in five councils offer a dedicated complaints support service for social care users.

Care home residents and other social care users struggle to get the support they need when it comes to complaining about the quality of care they receive.

Under the Government’s health reforms all 152 local authority areas have a duty to provide an independent support service for those looking to raise concerns about the NHS. Yet with no similar duty or additional resources to support those receiving social care, councils are leaving many thousands of elderly and vulnerable individuals to fight their own battles when they are let down by their care provider.

Our recent FOI request revealed that just 1 in 5 councils, 27 of the 120 that responded, said they offer a dedicated complaints support service for social care users. Others authorities stated that such cases would be supported by the council’s general advocacy service, with resources focused on helping those with learning disabilities or mental health conditions. However, more than a third (45 councils) stated that they don’t provide any advocacy or support service for those looking to complain about the quality of care they receive.

This lack of support is symptomatic of a wider problem with how complaints about social care are dealt with. Unlike in health, care providers don’t have to publish details of the number of complaints made about them or indeed how they have changed their processes as a result. There is also no requirement to report the number of complaints they receive to the Health and Social Care Information Centre, so the true scale of the problem is unknown.

We are therefore publishing a set of standards for both health and social care complaints advocacy services for all people regardless of their needs or the service they use. This work was commissioned by the Department of Health following a commitment in ‘Hard Truths’ – the Government’s response to the Francis Inquiry and the Clwyd Hart Review. It sets out what people should be able to expect in terms of support from complaints advocacy services in making their voices heard.

These standards form part of a wider blueprint for legislative reform of the complaints system which we presented to the Government in our report last year – ‘Suffering in Silence’.

Our Chief Executive, Dr Katherine Rake, said:

“Whilst a lot of effort has been put into rethinking hospital complaints systems, it is often much harder for those receiving social care support to make their voices heard.

“In a hospital, for example, there are lots of staff around and it’s relatively easy to move patients to a different ward to help protect them. Those receiving care support in their own homes or a care home face a much more serious risk, often complaining about the individuals who are responsible for their direct care and are therefore understandably scared of the possible consequences of speaking up.

“Sadly when people are vulnerable and in crisis, access to information about how to complain isn’t enough. They need support to make their complaint, someone to take them through the process, help them understand their options and ensure they continue to get the care they need whilst the case is resolved.

“Improving the support available is just one piece of the complaints puzzle. There needs to be complete legislative reform following the election to make it much easier for people to raise their concerns and introduce a system that ensures the NHS and social care services actually learn from their mistakes.”