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Raising concerns

FAQ: I am unhappy about my daughter’s care. What can I do? 

A: Family carers often find themselves taking on the role of an advocate while supporting their family member, to ensure they have a voice when making decisions. However, knowing how and when to raise a complaint can be complicated. What effect might making a formal complaint have on the relationships you need to develop between yourself and professionals, or on the care your family member receives? If you raise the concern informally, are you speaking to the right person who can help make the changes needed? What is the best way to introduce the subject?

How to raise a concern informally

Building a relationship with key members of staff allows for a two-way communication that can avoid misunderstandings. Depending on the type of concern, the first option may be to speak to a member of staff or manager to resolve the issue. You may be able to use a log book, communication book, or a home-school diary. Consider whether anyone external to the service can help you raise the issues, such as a social worker, advocate or Information Advice and Support Services.

If the complaint is about a service or care provider, ask your social services department or health commissioner responsible for arranging your family members’ care to help you pursue the complaint. 

Raising a concern formally

If there has been no change following the informal conversations, you may wish to raise your concerns officially either in writing or request to have a meeting with the person responsible for your family member’s care. Here are some examples when you might wish to make an official complaint:

  • If you believe that your son or daughter’s safety, health and wellbeing needs are not being met or that they could be met more effectively through a different service.
  • If support staff have made a series of mistakes in your family member’s care.
  • If support staff involved in your family member’s care have acted unprofessionally.
  • If there is a disagreement between yourself and the care manager on how best to use/ spend your family member’s finances.
  • If your family member’s care package or funding has been cut without an explanation.
  • If agreed changes to your family member’s care have taken too long to be implemented.
  • If your views / opinions as a family member are continuously ignored to the disadvantage of your family member’s care.

Steps to consider when making a formal complaint

  • Have evidence of the complaint or concern ready, for example, notes of what happened and when, pictures or other evidence.
  • Keep a record of all conversations and dates when you first raised the concern. If possible always take a family member, friend or advocate to meetings as a witness. Also request to have any information you discussed in writing for your records.
  • Think about what change or action you want to happen to resolve the issue.
  • Keep a record of your complaints.
  • Ask for the organisation’s complaints policy document. Complaints procedures vary between different organisations.
  • Approach advice services such as Citizens Advice Bureau, local carer’s centres or advocacy organisations to see if they can assist you with making the complaint.

Tips for writing a formal complaint letter

  • Make sure you address the letter to the right person with the power to make decisions. If unsure who that is, address it to the Complaints Officer, as most organisations will have a person who handles all complaints.
  • Use the name of your family member and their date of birth as reference.
  • Describe what the concern or complaint is about and details of who you have contacted prior to making an official complaint.
  • Be clear and brief and try not to use emotional language.
  • Number your complaints if there are several.
  • Include copies of relevant documents and evidence in support of your complaint.
  • Ask for actions you would like them to take and if you would like an apology ask for this in your letter.
  • Ask a friend or relative to read the letter before you send it to check if it makes sense and for errors.
  • Include your contact details such as email address, telephone number and postal address.
  • Send a copy of the letter to all persons involved in the decision making.

If you are not happy with the outcome of the complaint: 

You should receive a written response to your complaint, including how it has been investigated, if it has been upheld and what, if any, action will be taken as a result. This letter should explain the next steps to take if you are not happy with the outcome. If you are not happy with how your complaint has been handles, you should follow the guidance provided to you. 

If you have reached the end of the organisation’s complaints process you can approach the ombudsman to investigate the concern. An ombudsman is an independent person appointed to look into complaints about companies and organisations free of charge and impartially. Below are details of ombudsman for each region: 

Northern Ireland: Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman – Tel: 0800 34 34 24 (For unresolved complaints that involve public service providers) 

England: Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman - Tel: 0345 015 4033 (For complaints that have not been resolved by the NHS in England, UK government departments and some other UK public organisations)

England: Local Government Ombudsman – Tel: 0300 061 0614 (For any unresolved complaints against councils and some other organisations providing local public services)

Wales: Public Services Ombudsman for Wales – Tel: 0300 790 0203 (For complaints about public services and independent care providers in Wales) 

Scotland: Scottish Public Services Ombudsman – Tel: 0800 377 7330 (For unresolved complaints about councils, the National Health Service, housing associations, education providers, the Scottish Government and most Scottish authorities) 

You must contact the ombudsman within 12 months of the concern you are complaining about and within 1 month if you are contacting the Local Government Ombudsman. 

For further help see: 

Safeguarding concerns FAQ, available at: www.challengingbehaviour.org.uk/education-housing-social-care/faq-safeguarding.html 

Accessing Public Services Toolkit produced by Cerebra, available at: w3.cerebra.org.uk/help-and-information/guides-for-parents/problem-solving-toolkit/ - template letters included. 

Citizens Advice – detailed guidance on making health and social care complaints, including an online template letter tool to include the correct information in an NHS complaint: www.citizensadvice.org.uk/health/nhs-and-social-care-complaints 

NHS complaints – the NHS Choices website has useful links on how to make a complaint if you are not happy with your care or family members’ care while in an NHS hospital or care.

Independent Complaints Advocacy Services (ICAS) - ICAS provides support to people wishing to complain about the treatment or care they receive under the NHS – Contact your local Patient Advice and Liaison Services (PALS) for your local ICAS team. 

Information Advice and Support Services (IASS) – is a service for families of children and young people in education. You can find your local IASS service on the link provided: www.councilfordisabledchildren.org.uk/information-advice-and-support-services-network.

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