Is it just me…?

Editor in Chief, Robert Chamberlain looks at the new Healthwatch report What is it like to live in a care home? and considers the media response to its findings.

Over a period of 15 months from January 2016, Healthwatch conducted research into what life is really like for care home residents.

Its staff and volunteers visited 197 homes across 63 regions during this time and the findings have now been now published.

The report also provides key steps for providers to implement low-cost changes that ensure all residents feel at home.

The findings

Encouragingly, the majority of residents and relatives interviewed for the research believed they receive good care.

The report states, ‘Local Healthwatch representatives also 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’.

However, there were many observations of ‘not getting the basics right’, including from homes rated highly by the Care Quality Commission.

Findings include:

  • 34% of the visits reported environmental issues, such as shabby décor and dead plants in lounge areas. There were also reports of poor adaptations and a lack of accessible toilets and signage (particularly for dementia care).
  • In 24% of reports, residents gave strong feedback about the need for improved activities. Lack of internet access was also highlighted.
  • 22% stated concerns over staffing levels and retention issues. Residents considered this had an adverse effect on their continuity of care, as did the regular use of agency workers. Lack of training, especially with regard to dementia, mental health and DoLS was also cited as a concern.
  • 17% related to the need for better access to health services, such as a GP or dentist.

Healthwatch states that the ‘vast majority of care home managers have responded to the feedback very positively, often agreeing to review processes and making changes very quickly’.

It is encouraging to read that 43 of the homes visited have already made improvements as a result of Healthwatch’s findings; less so that 51 homes have yet to respond.

Balanced report from Healthwatch

The issues highlighted by this report are of great value and are delivered in a context of an understanding of the pressures affecting care providers. Direct reference is made to the financial crisis in our sector.

Difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff are also cited as an ongoing challenge. This, of course, could become a greater problem post-Brexit.

However, the message here is that low cost improvements can be made that will enhance the lives of residents.

It’s a case of getting the basics right; what might seem like small things are very important to a resident’s wellbeing.

Imelda Redmond, National Director of Healthwatch explained, ‘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.’

Media response

Unsurprisingly, yet frustratingly, the newspaper headlines are focused solely on the negatives, without recognition of social care pressures.

The Telegraph, for example, ran with the headline, ‘Care home neglect – residents dressed in wrong clothes amid rotting plants and “filthy” rooms’.

Various articles ignored the fact that the majority of residents and relatives spoken to described their care as ‘good’. They also failed to recognise that a significant percentage of homes have responded positively to the findings.

Our sector is far from perfect, but we do not shy away from scrutiny. The providers’ responses to the Healthwatch report show that, in the main, criticism is received positively and acted upon.

It is a pity that the media likes to sensationalise the minority of poor practice with unbalanced reporting. Painting a bleak picture of care homes is in no one’s interests…but I guess it sells newspapers.

What are your thoughts on the way the media treats our sector? Log-in to join the debate.

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