Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care at the Care Quality Commission.

The third Care Home Open Day took place on Friday 19 June — an annual opportunity to strengthen links between homes and the local community, celebrate good care and recognise the contribution of countless dedicated staff and managers across the country.

From tea parties to sing-a-longs; barbecues to donkeys; visiting dignitaries and local schoolchildren — the day seemed to generate fun and laughter in abundance for residents, staff and the public. The all-too prevalent myth that care homes are dull and dingy was well and truly exploded.

Good practice

I have been a supporter of Care Home Open Day since the first event in 2013 when I was at the Social Care Institute for Excellence. I fondly remember my day then as an honorary activities assistant in a home in Northern Ireland.

This year I visited three care homes in a trans-Pennine trip from Manchester to Leeds to Scarborough. Along the way I chatted with residents, relatives and staff; “travelled” on a Hawaiian adventure at De Brook Lodge; indulged in high tea at Aire View; and worked off the calories with a great Oomph! session at St. Cecilia’s.

I picked up some good practice examples along the way. Staff at DeBrook Lodge had prepared their own one-page profiles to share with residents. At Aire View I chatted with the housekeeper who explained how the home’s person-centred focus was embraced by all staff. And at St. Cecilia’s, relatives shared with me how staff supported them too — something I believe is the hallmark of a good service.

The Care Quality Commission is also very supportive. It is great that staff from other directorates can visit homes and gain a much better understanding of the vital work they do. Our inspectors also had the opportunity to chat with relatives and the public to explain our role.

Challenges

But putting your head above the parapet to support a positive initiative in social care does not come without challenge. I responded last year to the questions raised with me about poor care, the impact on residents and that it was just one day so I won’t repeat the comments I made then.

This year some judged our engagement to represent a conflict of interest and a challenge to our position as an independent regulator while others accused us of “hi-jacking” the day to talk about poor care. Let me respond to both issues.

We all want good care

We share a common aim with the organisers of Care Home Open Day — we all want good care. A key part of CQC’s purpose is to encourage services to improve and the greater transparency and openness generated by the open day can certainly help with that. It does of course have to be sustained and this is why when we assess whether a service is well-led we look carefully at the culture of the service, how it responds to issues raised by people using the service, their relatives and staff and what links there are with the local community.

Getting involved in the Open Day for some homes builds on the strong links they have already established and for others it can act as a springboard for the future. There is also an important role in raising public awareness — we know that most decisions about moving to a care home are made at points of crisis with families not having a lot of prior knowledge. Anything that raises positive awareness about care homes is to be welcomed.

Independence

But does this compromise our independence as a regulator? I don’t think so — being on the side of people using services does not mean being against all providers.

I am a firm believer in the value of constructive engagement between the regulator and providers and have welcomed the contribution provider representatives have made to the development of our new regulatory regime. I speak regularly at conferences organised for providers so that I can explain clearly my expectations of them and hear about their issues. Care Home Open Day is another important element of that open engagement.

This engagement does not undermine CQC’s resolve to raise standards in the sector and tackle poor care. Indeed on the same day as we were being accused of being too positive about care homes, we were also criticised for being too negative.

Poor care

In preparing for Friday, the BBC asked for a breakdown of our ratings of care homes since the introduction of our new inspection regime last October. As a public sector body committed to openness and transparency we were happy to provide that information.

The figures make for sobering reading — while the majority of care homes we have rated to date are Good, with a small number being Outstanding, 8% have been rated as Inadequate and 36% as Requiring Improvement.

The figures provided are robust but we need to set them in context. We are only a quarter of the way through our programme and in responding to risks and concerns; we may be seeing more services that are inadequate and requiring improvement in these early stages. The picture may change as we move through the programme but we should never forget the impact poor care has on the lives of people living in care homes and our focus must remain on tackling that and taking appropriate action.

It is no surprise that when we are trying to promote a positive story in the media about care homes the issue of poor care will be raised. In these circumstances it is important that the public is reassured the regulator will take appropriate action and I spent time in media interviews on Friday explaining that.

Final thoughts

A lot of people had a lot of fun on Friday but good care homes know that it’s not just a one day in the year effort — it is an everyday of the year commitment. At CQC we will continue to support and encourage good services and take action to improve poor care. Together with everyone else playing their part, we want to make sure all care home residents will have the service they have every right to expect with visitors welcome any time!

Originally published at www.cqc.org.uk.

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We make sure health and social care services provide people with safe, effective, compassionate, high-quality care and we encourage care services to improve.

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