In fact, not a week seems to go by without some new depressing development warning us that care homes risk going out of business, or that older people are already going without basic care to wash and eat.
Independent Age hears these stories through our advice service. Distressingly we hear about people having to endure poor care, sometimes in the most undignified circumstances.
But for the millions of people who do need and then struggle to organise this care, last week’s Autumn Statement sent out the barely believable message that fixing care for the elderly appears to be very low down the government’s current list of priorities. There was not a single mention of ‘social care’ in the Chancellor’s set-piece speech.
There was one small glimmer of hope last Wednesday, which came at Prime Minister’s Questions. Pressed on what the government were going to do in the wake of last week’s Panorama, the Prime Minister echoed the sentiments of many when she said it was appalling to see “poor and terrible treatment given to elderly and vulnerable people”. She added that where the Care Quality Commission (CQC) the care inspectorate for England could take action, that it would, and that the Minister for Community Health would be writing to the CQC to see what more they could do to assure safe care.
Our new report Shining a light on care: helping people make better care home choices, provides some recommendations for the government to act on. Fundamentally Ministers need to show the same level of leadership on the issue of transparency and reporting performance in social care as they have for the NHS. Together with the CQC they need to agree a single, shared view of quality and safety in care homes. This means working with other stakeholders to develop a minimum data set for all homes so commissioners, but crucially the public too, can identify when performance in homes is dipping and residents may be at risk of neglect.
These measures are vital. At present, there is a confused picture of safety and quality in care homes in England. As at July 2016 around 12,000 care homes had been inspected and although the majority were rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, far too many – nearly 4,000 – are sub-standard or struggling to improve.
In a recent parliamentary debate on regulation of care homes, the former Minister for Care, Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP highlighted the good work often done in care homes. There are many fantastic homes and we must pay tribute to the excellent work their staff provide. However, he also added that there are still too “many dark corners” and that it’s those corners that regulators must “shine a light on”.
Our new research reveals that 45% of British adults believe the overall quality of care on offer in care homes for the elderly is bad. More worrying still, 52% of adults believe abuse and neglect in care homes is common. Although over two-thirds (71%) of those who believe abuse and neglect is common cite media coverage, over one-third (36%) stated personal experience had influenced their view.
Independent Age believes what fundamentally needs to change is the quality on offer in a care homes market worth £15.9billion. So another obvious step we are calling for – and it is one the government can start developing straight away – is a staff survey across the care sector, much like the one that exists for NHS staff.
We have a gaping hole in what we know about the true scale of abuse and neglect in care homes so the survey would provide annual, benchmarked data on whether staff would recommend the provider they work for to relatives or friends. And to prevent many more examples of shocking treatment on Panorama and other television programmes, the survey could also help us to better understand the extent of risk of abuse and neglect by enabling staff to anonymously report whether they have witnessed such incidents in the course of their work. It is only fair the public knows this.