Healthwatch Urge Councils To Promote A Culture Of Learning From Complaints

As part of Quality Matters, a sector-wide commitment to improving social care, Healthwatch is urging councils to helping foster a culture of learning from feedback and complaints in care services.

To support this work, Healthwatch did some investigation into how local authorities in England are learning from complaints by looking into their annual complaints report.

Initially they looked at how easy the complaints reports were to access. Of 152 local authorities only 55 reports were made publicly available in 2017/18, compared with 72 the previous year.

They also found that the reports 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, and found a lack of consistency in approach, making it impossible to understand national trends or learn from comparisons between councils.

Healthwatch findings suggest that councils are not currently making the most of annual complaints reports as an opportunity to demonstrate how responsive they are to feedback.

Five ways local authorities can promote a learning culture in complaints management

  1. Be transparent
    We were able to locate only 55 out of 152 complaints reports. While regulations do not require local authorities to publish their complaints reports online, we believe local authorities should publish them in the interest of openness and transparency, as well as to maximise learning opportunities.
  2. Work towards standardisation across councils
    We support the National Complaints Managers Group’s efforts to develop a common taxonomy for complaints about social care. Without this, meaningful comparisons, identification of trends and national learning will be limited.
  3. Remember what reports are for
    Local authorities should focus on improving people’s experiences rather than counting complaints. Shared learning may also save local authorities money by helping to get services right the first time.
  4. Think about how health and social care structures are changing
    We would like to see increased collaboration around complaints across health and social care. Local authorities should work with the NHS at an STP/ICS level to ensure shared learning and consider producing a joint annual report on learning from complaints.
  5. Work with your local Healthwatch
    Complaints reports should be shared with stakeholders, including local Healthwatch, so that organisations can understand and respond to the feedback given about local services.

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.

“We are keen to use this report to support local authority complaint managers in their work, providing them with a catalyst to help foster a culture of learning in every council in England.”

In response to our report, Julie Ogley, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) said:

“ADASS welcomes the findings of this Healthwatch report.

“It’s really important to our members that people feel able to raise any concerns and, importantly, that they’re encouraged to do so by everyone involved in care.”