Over half of British adults (52%) believe that abuse and neglect in care homes for the elderly is common. Of those, many say their opinion is based on personal experience – either knowing someone in a care home (15%), working in a care home (5%), or hearing personal experience from others (25%).
That’s according to new research from Independent Age, the older people’s charity, which is calling for new measures to understand the scale of the problem.
“While the research finds that most people’s negative view about care homes is based on media coverage, it is worrying that so many say they are basing it on personal experience,” says Simon Bottery, Director of Policy & External Relations at Independent Age. “We hear from care homes that they are already required to report against many different measures from different commissioners and, of course, the CQC. Yet we also know that the information available to the public about care home quality is very basic. It’s essential we identify one core set of measures that genuinely provides an indicator of the quality of care and ensure that this forms the basis of all inspections and contracts. That will give older people, families and commissioners the most confidence that they are choosing the best quality care.”
The charity wants the government to take responsibility for collecting a basic set of core information about care homes to give earlier warnings of a home providing poor care. Better information and transparency about quality of care must be made available to the public when choosing care. Independent Age also wants the Department of Health to commission a social care staff survey similar to the NHS staff survey asking if staff would recommend the provider they work for and whether they have witnessed neglect or abuse.
The report, ‘Shining a light on care: Helping people make better care home choices’, also found that:
- 85% of adults say that they have not visited a friend or relative living in a care home in the past year.
- Of those adults who have visited a care home in the past year, 45% believe neglect and abuse to be common.
- 45% of adults would describe the overall quality of care in care homes as bad.
- 22% say that, if they wanted to find a care home for a relative or friend, they would not know where to go for information, including 1 in 5 (19%) of over-65s.
- 71% of people who believe neglect and abuse to be common cite media coverage of the care sector as a reason for this belief.
The latest figures from the care watchdog, the Care Quality Commission show that while the majority of care homes inspected are rated “good” or outstanding” nearly 4,000 care homes in England are delivering substandard care or are struggling to improve. There were nearly 40,000 safeguarding risks relating to care homes reported and investigated in England in 2015/2016. The CQC recently raised concerns about the fragility of the adult social care market, suggesting it might be approaching a “tipping point”.
The charity reports that, while there is some limited information available about performance in care homes (e.g. whether it has a registered manager in place), there is no common measure of what a good quality care home looks like. A mystery shopping exercise, carried out for the report, highlighted inconsistency in the information that care homes were able to provide about their own services. This means that consumers struggle to know what questions to ask or what to look for when choosing a care home.
The report finds that:
There are significant gaps in the information care homes directly provide about their own services. A mystery shopping exercise, carried out for the report, involved phoning care homes to ask six basic questions about the home. Only 4% of care homes spoken to were able to provide a ‘good’ answer to every question.
- Two in five – 40% – of care homes spoken to were unable to provide a ‘satisfactory’ or ‘good’ answer to all six questions.
- The research found that people reported very low levels of awareness of existing sources of information on care homes, and often struggled to trust information that they do find.
The Independent Age report recommends that the Competition and Markets Authority conduct a full market review of the care home sector. It wants the Department of Health to demonstrate clear leadership on transparency in social care, and work with partners to ensure older people and their families can access information on quality in care homes.
Professor Paul Burstow, former Care Minister, said, “For most of us, the thought of going into a care home is often something we only ever think of us as a last resort. But when the time comes to choose one, people need a straightforward view of what good quality care looks like, what they should avoid and what they should ask. After all, people choosing a care home rarely get second chances. Government, regulators and the care industry all have a role to play in making choosing a care home easier.”