Healthwatch Urge Councils To Promote A Culture Of Learning From Complaints

Local authorities focus on reporting the number of complaints they receive rather than communicating what they are learning. Healthwatch England are calling for complaints managers to be given more support to help demonstrate how councils respond to feedback from residents.

As part of Quality Matters, a sector-wide commitment to improving social care, Healthwatch have committed 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.

The findings suggest that councils are not currently making the most of their annual complaints reports as an opportunity to demonstrate how responsive they are to feedback. Read the full report to find out more.

Healthwatch research 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.

A lack of consistency in approach makes it impossible to understand national trends or learn from comparisons between councils.

Key messages

  • Reports are becoming less accessible to the public
    When Healthwatch first reviewed local authority complaints reports in 2017, it was able to find reports online for half of the 152 councils in England. When it repeated the exercise in early 2019, they were only able to find them for a third of local authorities.
  • Reports focus on numbers not learning
    In most reports Healthwatch looked at, the emphasis was on the number of complaints received during the year and whether they were processed within the council’s agreed timeframes. Having more complaints than the previous year was often seen as a ‘worse performance’. In their current form, local authority complaints reports represent a missed opportunity for sharing learning about how to improve social care and demonstrating how people’s experiences can drive that improvement.
  • Local government needs a more consistent approach
    When looking at local authority complaints reports, it is very difficult to compare like for like. There is no consistency in what they cover. The structure and even the taxonomy vary considerably between councils.

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