Complaints about adult social care double in Northumberland

Complaints about adult social care in Northumberland have doubled in the past two years.

Thursday, 24th September 2020, 6:00 am
Complaints about adult social care in Northumberland have risen.

The annual report to the county council’s health and wellbeing committee revealed that there were 50 complaints in 2019-20, up from 34 the previous year and 24 in 2017-18.

Complaints about NHS continuing healthcare, for people with long-term complex health needs, increased from three to five and then eight last year.

Over the same period, the trend for complaints in three comparable authorities – Cumbria, Durham and Lancashire – was downwards, although Northumberland’s rate of complaints per 1,000 service users, while higher than Durham’s, was lower than in the other two areas.

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Just more than half of the complaints in the county last year were upheld or partly upheld, with the 54% rate being a slight rise compared to 2018-19 (50%), but significantly lower than in 2017-18 (71%).

The majority of the complaints related to care management, with the next highest service areas complained about being independent providers then finance.

Presenting the report, James Hillery, the council’s adult social care complaints manager, said: “Issues around finance and funding are a key issue for many people in Northumberland and certainly it’s one of the drivers, I believe, for people when they complain, because most people are being asked to contribute a cost towards their care, which is a national policy, it’s a local policy.

“I think people are becoming more willing to challenge services and certainly challenge services where the issue of money, if not central, sits within the overall complaint.”

Cllr Susan Dungworth noted that the reasoning behind increased complaints in previous years was that the system had been made easier for people to complain and the ‘old adage that complaints are not necessarily a bad thing, because then you can do something about it’ – adding that Northumberland was ‘bucking the trend’ of other local authorities.

She said: “While I accept people feel they have a right to complain when they are paying for it – although that does worry me a bit that people who aren’t paying don’t feel empowered to complain – but that isn’t new, that is what we’ve been living with for a lot of years now, so what are we doing to find out why the complaints are rising?”

Mr Hillery responded: “The finance one was certainly a key issue over the past 12 months, when the council’s charging policy changed and I think a number of people were affected more than others.

“In terms of the direction, historically we have always had a fairly high tolerance for complaints and if we have been able to resolve things informally and quickly, we haven’t necessarily logged that as a complaint because the regulations allow it.

“In 2019/20, we have seen a slight lowering of our tolerance around complaints, because of the nature of complaints brought forward, particularly with the underlying issue around money.

“I’m not sure we’re continuing to see an upward trend and if you look at other authorities, they start at a fairly high point so we’re maybe meeting in the middle.”

She added: “I agree with your point that we have an upward trend and we need to see what we can do about it; we have links with the social work and care management side of the business and we do share our findings with them and do look to embed learning where it’s applicable.

“I’m hopeful that the trend we have seen over the past two or three years of increasing complaints will level off to a more typical year and I’m wondering if the 40 or 50 mark will become a typical year for us.”

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