Six complaints about adult social care in Northumberland upheld by ombudsman

All six of the adult social care complaints in Northumberland last year which progressed to an investigation by the ombudsman were upheld, it has been revealed.

Tuesday, 24th September 2019, 5:52 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th October 2019, 9:48 am
County Hall

The Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman’s review of adult social care complaints for 2018-19 was published on Thursday September 19.

The figures show that the ombudsman received 15 complaints and inquiries relating to Northumberland County Council during the last financial year – three on assessments and care planning, two on charging, one each on home care and safeguarding and eight categorised as ‘other’.

A total of 14 were dealt with during the year, with three referred back for local resolution and five closed after initial inquiries.

Of the six which progressed to detailed investigations, however, all six complaints were upheld by the ombudsman.

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In one case, the council had ‘provided a satisfactory remedy’ before the complaint reached the ombudsman.

Of the four which had a compliance outcome during the year, the local authority successfully implemented the recommendations in all four cases.

For example, in one case, the council has ‘agreed to ensure clear procedures are in place for dealing with people with terminal diagnoses so that valuable time is not lost unnecessarily’, while in another, ‘it has agreed to consider what action it needs to take to prevent similar problems from happening again, after its communications caused distress to two brothers when their parents died’.

Care complaints were discussed at a council committee meeting in July, where it was emphasised that both adult and children’s social services receive far more compliments than complaints – 519 in total in 2018-19.

At that meeting, Cath McEvoy-Carr, the authority’s executive director for adult social care and children’s services, was asked by the committee chairman, Coun Jeff Watson, if she was happy with the complaints figures.

“No, I would prefer none,” she replied. “But complaints are really a way to improve.

“I’m not happy about complaints, I would rather we didn’t have them, but it’s a way for us to listen to the wider public about how our services are working.”

Across the country, the annual review has revealed the ombudsman is investigating a greater proportion of complaints than previous years – and finding fault on average in 66% of cases.

In some casework areas, including those about fees and charging for care, the ombudsman has upheld nearly three-quarters of investigations (73%).

Michael King, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “Many of the issues we see appear to be driven by attempts to ration scarce resources, and we received and upheld more complaints about fees and charging this year than in previous years.

“While I recognise the challenging environment both commissioners and providers are operating within, any attempts to reduce costs must also properly consider the impact on the rights and dignity of people who use services and must comply with both the letter and the spirit of the Care Act 2014.”

He added: “Despite the pressures, council and care providers’ responses to our investigations remain positive.

“This year, as well as the number of complaints received and the decisions we have made, we are also publishing a new set of remedy and compliance data; I’m pleased to say that in all but one of the cases we investigated the council or care provider agreed to put in place the recommendations we made.”

Responding to the annual review, Coun Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said: “Councils and the care providers they commission work hard to try to give the best possible service to those who rely on vital adult social care support, despite funding and demand pressures.

“This is reflected by the fact that the total number of care complaints has fallen slightly year-on-year and that responses to investigations remain positive, with the vast majority of the ombudsman’s recommendations being put into place.

“Extra funding for social care next year will help councils as they strive to ensure older and disabled people can live the lives they want to lead.

“We also need the Government to publish its proposals for the future of adult social care as soon as possible to find a long-term, sustainable funding solution, so that all those who use and work in social care have the support and certainty they need.”