New Care Home Complaints System To Offer Elderly Residents Better Service

Sweeping changes are to be made to the regulation of Britain’s 13,900 care homes, including a new complaints system and tougher inspections for large private operators, The Times has learnt.

Elderly people and their families, who pay for care, will soon be able to take grievances to the Local Government Ombudsman, whose office currently investigates complaints against local authorities over school admissions, housing and social services.

So-called self-funders, who make up almost half of the 440,000 care home residents in Britain, have been clamouring for a new complaints system to be set up after ministers made clear that the current regulator, the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI), could not take on this role.

This has left self-funders with nowhere to turn when disputes arise with care home managers, who can ask residents to leave when families pursue complaints.

Experts say that this loophole must be closed if standards of care are to rise when the new “super-regulator” begins scrutinising 2.8 million staff in the NHS, local authorities and the private sector next year.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) will absorb the CSCI into the Healthcare Commission, and the Mental Health Act Commission, which regulate health and psychiatric care, in April.

Baroness Young of Old Scone, the chairman of the new watchdog, told The Times that large private companies that run many hundreds of homes will have to be registered as a group so that the most senior company managers can be held to account.

The CQC is also promising a tougher inspection regime for homes and hospitals and penalties including fines or deregistration for those providers that fail to provide expected standards of care.

Inspectors say that often the same problems crop up in a number of homes owned by the same private provider, and there is currently no mechanism to force the company to take action. All homes are currently registered individually.

The National Audit Office will publish a report of the complaints system for the NHS and social care sector tomorrow, in which it is expected to be highly critical of existing procedures.

The Department of Health expects more grievances to be dealt with at a local level, leaving the Health Ombudsman to sort out outstanding disputes. The Local Government Ombudsman will likewise deal with complaints about social care.

But groups representing older people questioned whether the town hall watchdog was qualified to handle issues regarding the day-to-day care of vulnerable people.

Elizabeth McLennan, senior policy officer at Help the Aged, said: “It is clearly good news that a new complaints system is being set up, but the Government is opening a can of worms.

“It is strange that complaints are going to be handled by people who are not necessarily experts in this field.

“However, it is surprising that the Government has not given additional powers to the new [CQC] to under-take this role since they have intimate knowledge of care homes’ responsibilities.”

Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, said that plans for a new complaints system were being drawn up and legislation would be tabled soon.

“Independent redress where complaints are not resolved satisfactorily is an important way of ensuring that all old people, regardless of their means, are treated with dignity and respect,” he said.

The move to increase scrutiny of care homes comes at a critical time for social care, with concerns mounting about the quality of care in residential homes. This year there have been a number of high-profile enforced closures where residents have been removed for their own safety. Many homes are struggling to cope with high staff turnover.