Healthwatch England: What is life in a care home really like?

National Care champion Healthwatch England urges homes to be more open to using feedback from residents, relatives and staff to help drive improvement.

Between January 2016 and April 2017, local Healthwatch staff and volunteers across England visited 197 care homes across 63 different local authority areas, to find out what life in a care home is like.

The Healthwatch report outlines key next steps for care homes, how feedback can be used to identify a whole host of small, low cost changes that ensure all residents feel ‘at home’.

The majority of residents and relatives Healthwatch spoke with as part of their investigation into what life in a care home is like considered the care they received to be good, with innovative homes showing what is possible without breaking the bank.

Local Healthwatch representatives saw staff going above and beyond the call of duty to connect with those they care for and really helping them to live their lives – including one activities coordinator from Cheshire who arranged for her own wedding reception to take place in the care home she worked at to enable residents to join in with the party.

However, Healthwatch volunteer visitors also witnessed homes not getting the basics right with even those providing excellent care failing to tick all the boxes. Issues local Healthwatch found involved environment, activities, staffing and wider health needs.

Residents themselves identified problems with things as simple as getting dressed. For example, one person in Wiltshire told her local Healthwatch that, “the staff just pull things out of the wardrobe and say “that’s nice” and put it on me – they don’t ask what I want to wear.”

Although some of the reports produced by local Healthwatch organisations raise concerns about people’s experiences, the vast majority of care home managers have responded to the feedback very positively, often agreeing to review processes and making changes very quickly.

However, despite there being a statutory duty on providers of health and care services to respond to the recommendations made by local Healthwatch, 51 of the care homes visited have not yet responded. This together with some of the basic problems highlighted, raises some concerns about a worrying culture of apathy towards the views and experiences of residents in some homes. Care home managers are encouraged to work with their local Healthwatch to actively seek out and use feedback to drive improvement.

Imelda Redmond, National Director of Healthwatch England, said:

“It’s not easy running a care home, particularly as the sector as a whole is trying to get to grips with the dual challenge of managing rising demand with limited resources. But getting the basics right doesn’t have to cost the earth and should be the least we should all be able to expect for our loved ones and ourselves should we need care support.

“Even the best homes we visited aren’t perfect, and it is vital that managers and carers regularly speak with their residents to work out what’s going well and where they might need to improve. None of us would want someone dictating how we should live our lives in our own homes, so why should we expect care home residents to tolerate it?”

“Care homes are not institutions, they are people’s homes, and the only way to ensure they feel like this for residents is to put them at the heart of shaping how the care home runs. Healthwatch is here to help with this and I would urge anyone who wants to share their experiences, good or bad, to get in touch.”