Almost all complaints made to Lancashire County Council about adult and children’s social care services are at least partly related to communication issues.
That was the message from the authority’s complaints manager who said that the concerns raised by service users could have been addressed sooner if they had been kept informed about the progress of their cases.
“Ninety-nine per cent of complaints have got a communication element to them,” Angela Esslinger told a meeting of the cabinet committee on performance improvement.
“Just picking up the phone and bringing somebody up-to-date with the situation – and if there is a delay, the reason for it – would help.
“None of this is rocket science – but [staff] can be too busy to think of getting back to people to explain where [their case] is up to, because they could be dealing with something they might perceive as a life or death situation in another part of their work,” she added.
Lessons learned from complaints over the past 12 months include the importance of the timely returning of calls, giving notice of cancelled meetings and informing people of the financial implications of care packages which are being drawn up.
But members heard that more people have contacted Lancashire County Council to compliment the authority on its adult social care services over the past year than to complain about them – and that complaints across both adult and children’s social care represent only one per cent of all the cases which the authority deals with.
Adult social care complaints were almost static between 2017/18 and 2018/19, standing at 538. Of those cases closed during the financial year, 36 per cent had at least one aspect upheld, 17 per cent were not upheld and the remainder were resolved early. The most common cause of complaint was care provision.
The number of adult social care complaints considered by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) for final adjudication fell slightly to 31 during 2018/19 – and a total of eight were upheld.
Meanwhile, complaints relating to children’s social care rose by three percent over the last financial year to 285, with social work practice being the main cause of concern for service users.
Non-statutory complaints about services not covered by the Care Act – such as those for children with special needs and disabilities – leapt by 63 per cent to 142.
The meeting heard that the overall increase is part of a national trend and may have been influenced by “a drift” of social workers from children’s to adult services.
Of the children’s cases closed during the year, 30 per cent were fully or partially upheld – an increase of 12 per cent compared to 2017/18. In response to some of the complaints, social workers were reminded of how service users can be affected by the way they are spoken to and also of the importance of meeting promised timescales.
A third of the 33 children’s-related complaints considered by the LGSCO were upheld.
Papers presented to committee members reveal that the authority’s staff across both adult and children’s services had received a number of “exceptional” compliments for the help they had given to individuals.
WHAT ELSE DO PEOPLE COMPLAIN ABOUT?
Highways accounted for the majority of non-care related complaints to Lancashire County Council during 2018/19, with 414 “expressions of dissatisfaction” on the subject. That equates to 35 per cent of all general corporate complaints, down from 50 per cent the previous year.
Dissatisfaction with the “customer access” service was the only other department to register complaints in three figures, at 357 – but the majority of these related to dissatisfaction with the response to highways concerns. County Hall has since reintroduced the highways mailbox service in an attempt to address the problem.
The authority also reviewed its policy and procedures in relation to issuing blue badges for the disabled, after the LGSCO upheld three complaints.
Out of 32 complaints overall to the Ombudsman last year, 15 per cent were upheld.
During 2018/19, a total of 1,188 corporate complaints were made to Lancashire County Council, down by three percent on the previous year. Ninety-six percent were resolved early in the process after being deemed to be “routine service issues”.