How do you distinguish between a good and bad care home? We sent a team of experts undercover to assess six residential and nursing homes and then give us their advice on what to look for choosing a care home.
If I asked you to describe a bad hotel, you wouldn’t have too much trouble: we’ve all been to hotels with uncomfortable beds, terrible breakfasts and night-time disturbances from more sociable guests. Whereas a good hotel experience can make us misty-eyed years later.
Similarly, a good or bad hospital experience probably isn’t too hard to describe.
But when it comes to care homes, it’s not so easy. So many factors are at play, and one person’s idea of a cosy, homely environment can be another’s chaotic mess.
Choosing a care home isn’t straightforward
Almost half of those we surveyed who had arranged care told us they found it difficult to get a reliable picture of what potential homes were actually like to live in. Some 20% said that brochures and websites failed to give an accurate picture, and 9% said they felt that homes were dishonest about what they can offer.
We try and make sense of the things we can enumerate: what does the regulator’s inspection report say? What do we smell when we walk in? Are there tempting menus and engaging activity programmes?
Of course, all of these factors make up different pieces of the puzzle, but things get more complicated when you start considering more subtle differences between homes.
For example, staff wearing a uniform may appear competent, but on the other hand, staff in their own unique clothes may indicate a home that values the personalities that its staff bring to your relative’s care.
And what about a home that scraps the activities programme but involves its residents in everyday life – from an ex-chef peeling the spuds to a retired DIY enthusiast helping the handyman put together an Ikea flat-pack? This could turn out to be a rare gem.
Undercover experts investigate…
To find out about what you should be looking for when viewing a home, we sent three experts to six residential and nursing homes, posing as relatives looking for a care home for their mum. As an expert panel, they then analysed all the undercover recordings, and gave their conclusions.
The quality of visits varied to a shocking degree. Care home viewings play a vital part in a difficult and life-changing decision for relatives, yet two of the six pre-arranged visits had been forgotten by the home staff.
On another visit, there were no chairs in the office used for speaking to visitors. Here’s what one of our experts told us:
‘We had to stand. I was holding a coat, bag and notepad and managed to drop everything at one point. I did wonder if this might have triggered her finding us chairs or another space – but it didn’t! It felt like she really wanted me out.’
A good home will ask lots of questions about your relative and their needs. But in four of our six visits this was not the case. One inspector told us:
‘There was a strong focus on things like the bathrooms and equipment… stressing locked cupboards and safety. Not as much on what was really important to me – my mum’s quality of life.’
Our experts were asked very little on the phone before they visited and as a result concluded that relatives could potentially waste a lot of time in visiting unsuitable homes.
How do you find the right care home?
Our panel recommended using all your senses when you visit – from what you see (for example, do residents look happy, well cared-for and relaxed rather than slumped asleep?) to what you hear (chatter and laughter rather than shouting and the persistent ringing of call bells?).
As our experts explained, a good care home will be keen to find out what your relative’s individual needs are when you visit. Make a note of what questions they ask you and how much time they spend assessing your relative’s needs – compared to how much time is spent on a general sales patter.
How easy have you found it to judge a care home? What would you recommend to others when choosing a care home?