A lack of transparency among local authorities in England is “making it impossible” to learn from complaints made by the public about social care services, Healthwatch England has warned.
Research by the independent consumer champion for health and social care found that councils focus on reporting the number of complaints they receive rather than communicating what they are learning.
Less than half of the councils in England (55 out of 152) published their annual complaints reports in 2017/18 compared with 72 the previous year, the study found.
And the reports that were made publically available focused on counting the number of complaints rather than identifying why complaints were being made, the frequency of specific or common complaints and how to achieve a resolution.
Healthwatch England said this is making it “impossible” to understand national trends or learn from comparisons between councils.
The organisation is calling for complaints managers to make the most of their annual reports as an opportunity to demonstrate how responsive they are to feedback.
Jacob Lant, head of Policy at Healthwatch England, said: “Complaints can be scary for organisations to deal with, often requiring services to accept that things have not gone according to plan. But they also present a huge opportunity to identify and tackle the root causes, and make sure others don’t have the same negative experience in future.
“The key to building a transparent and positive culture around complaints is to focus on this story of improvement, highlighting to service users that their feedback matters and that if they speak up it will lead to change.”
Healthwatch England plans to use findings to support local authority complaint managers, providing them with a catalyst to help foster a ‘culture of learning’ in every council in England.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman welcomed the report, which echoes its call for local authorities to shift their focus away from complaint volumes to complaint outcomes.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said: “We have always encouraged local authorities and care providers to create an open and transparent culture around complaints and their outcomes, sharing these internally, with service users, their families and with members of the public.”
The Ombudsman published a report earlier this month that details complaints about council-led social care services. Click here to view the findings.