Looking After People

Saved from the fate of so many other quangos, the U.K.’s Care Quality Commission has not only survived the Coalition government’s cuts, it has had its powers increased. Since its establishment in 2009, the Commission has often been in trouble with poor leadership and patchy performance, but now ts latest report published last week is causing trouble.

Based on 13,000 inspections of care homes and hospitals the report is positive about the general competence of medical and domiciliary care. However their negative findings have attracted widespread media attention. Even the Health minister, Jeremy Hunt, has noticed it. I heard him say on TV ‘it’s a ‘wake up call’, adding ‘but it’s not about money’. If that’s what he thinks, he needs to wake up. It’s about many things, but inadequate funding is one of them.

The C.Q.C. found that 15% of hospitals and 20% of care homes failed to ensure that residents had enough food and drink and were in danger of suffering malnutrition.

Staff shortages, at almost 25% of care homes and 16% of hospitals, were putting the quality and safety of care at risk. Lack of staff and poor training often meant that patients and residents were being treated as ‘a set of symptoms’, instead of as vulnerable and possibly frightened human beings.

More than 400,000 older people in the U.K. live today in 18,000 care homes and three quarters of these are privately owned. A three year study carried out by the’ My Home Life’ programme, has explored what makes good practice in care homes. In their report last month they offered key recommendations about how to improve the lives of older people living and dying in care, arguing that progress is being held back by a culture of “negativity” and “stigma” felt by both care workers and older people themselves, too many care homes lacking engagement with their local community and support from health services and local authorities.

Tom Owen, Co-Director of the My Home Life agency said: ‘While we know there is lots of good practice out there, too many care homes experience mistrust from the community and statutory services which only serves to increase their feeling of isolation and reduce their capacity to deliver a positive experience for older people. Quality in care homes has to be the responsibility of the whole community, not just the staff’. And of the government, I would add.

I have visited many residential homes in the course of my work and since retirement, and have had a variety of good and occasionally terrible experiences of them. Care for the increasing population of older people in Hospital and in Homes and at home is now a major social issue.

It needs to be addressed with urgency.