34% rise in complaints about care for elderly and vulnerable people in Kent

The number of complaints about care provided to the county’s elderly and vulnerable by social services has soared by 34%, according to Kent County Council.

Social services chiefs say they are working to improve services for thousands of people after a report revealed formal complaints about care rose to 459 in 2010-2011, compared to 342 the previous year.

It has also emerged the county council paid out a record amount of money in compensation, with nearly £26,000 compared to just £1,000 the previous year.

The council has also paid £2,500 to residents who were overcharged for care home fees. A further £4,600 has been paid as “goodwill payments”.

Of the 459 formal complaints made about adult social services, about a third were related to disputes over care packages, while about a quarter were about communication. Other reasons for complaints were the behaviour of staff and concerns about agency contractors.

Most complaints were made about the care for the elderly, which accounted for 290, an increase of 31% over the previous year. Complaints from those with learning disabilities soared by 50% and those with physical disabilities by 66%.

While the number of complaints has risen significantly, it represents a small percentage (2%) of the overall numbers who receive care.

Nevertheless, social services chiefs admit the increase is concerning.

Cllr Graham Gibbens, cabinet member for adult social services, said he did not believe there was a single underlying cause for the increase, despite growing pressure caused by increasing numbers of adults needing care and reducing budgets.

“I welcome complaints. It gives us the opportunity to improve and develop our services,” he said. “The most important thing is that if a mistake has happened, we need to be told and the mistake is rectified. People are becoming increasingly aware of their rights to complain and I’m delighted they are.”

Cllr Gibbens added that steps were being taken to improve communication.

“That is second to none,” he said. “I have asked that we take special care when we write to people about their care. They should have a clear and sensible answer they understand. While they may not agree with it, we need to act with dignity and responsibility.”

The figures are reported in KCC’s adult social care annual complaints report for 2010-2011.