Collaboration is key to improving complaints processes and outcomes in adult social care

by Stuart Purcell

Published: 28 Feb 2023

Being able to effectively challenge local council decisions about social care and support is vital for people who receive care, and their families.

As a Complaints Manager for my local authority, I am responsible for making sure that when someone is unhappy with a decision or how they have been treated, they receive the most appropriate response. I make sure that the complaints procedure is followed and an outcome achieved.

It is equally important for me to make sure my local authority learns from the complaint and makes appropriate improvements to its service.

For example, following a complaint made to us recently, we changed the way we record and provide complex advice to people receiving care, and their families. By providing clear advice that has been recorded more accurately, we aim to ensure that the problems experienced by the complainant will not recur. This should lead to improved services for all those seeking or receiving support from adult social care.

Working together to improve social care

The role of complaints managers is often an isolated and challenging one. We work in very small teams or sometimes as the only complaint manager in a department.

On the one hand, we work directly with the public dealing with their most complex and sometimes hard-to-resolve issues. On the other, we work with managers and staff in our own organisations to make sure they meet the requirements of the complaint procedure, while managing increasingly finite resources.

Collaborating with other complaints managers is one way to make sure we are effective in what we do.

I chair a forum of local authority complaints managers: the National Complaint Managers Group (NCMG). The NCMG is a collective of professionals who deliver complaints, dispute resolution and other associated functions. We all work in adult social care, children and families social care and education for local authorities in England. We have members from eight regional complaints managers’ groups, covering more than 150 local authorities.

We aim to offer peer support through quarterly online meetings and workshops. We also share information, ideas, advice and experiences that inform and improve best practice for managing complaints.

Influencing positive change

At a national level the NCMG represents the views and experiences of local authority complaints managers to government departments and stakeholders, such as the Association of Directors of Adult Social Care and the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. Collectively we give them our unique local government perspectives. We also share feedback from other local government staff and people seeking or receiving support through adult social care.

We offer Directors of adult social care insights from the main concerns of people receiving adult care services. This helps to improve their strategies and views of service provision.

We also provide regular feedback to the ombudsman on operational matters. Currently we are consulting with them on a proposed complaint handling code, which it is hoped will have a positive impact on the way complaints are managed nationally.

As a group we bring together and amplify the insights and experiences of the complaints managers we represent. This is particularly important when changes to policies and regulations are proposed. It is important that any such changes are informed by the collective expertise of complaints managers because we have practical knowledge of how policies and practices affect people’s experiences of decisions about care and support.

Sharing intelligence 

The regional groups of the NCMG offer a different set of benefits. They help us to continuously improve our own practice by pooling our intelligence and analysis of the complaints we receive. We prioritise areas of mutual concern and share what works to influence other parts of our organisation and to improve frontline services.

In the regional groups we can also discuss ideas for managing formal complaints. This helps colleagues to compare and make improvements to their practice. We can share and discuss statistical data, considering any outlying trends. We can also discuss the top-three complaints received, considering common themes and issues. We review reports from stakeholders, including reports from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

Following recent discussions at the Yorkshire and the Humber complaints managers’ group, I have set up ‘learning from complaints’ groups in my organisation. These provide forums for sharing learning. They also bring together everyone involved with designing and delivering adult social care services to find sustainable solutions to problems and improve outcomes for the people who rely on those services.

Providing the best possible service for care users

Local authorities must listen to challenges and act positively when concerns and challenges are received. The NCMG aims to make sure we provide the best possible service to our local authorities and, most importantly, to people receiving care.