Care home chains launch ratings survey as watchdog turns new leaf

 Almost 50,000 people living in care homes will next week be asked to rate their experience, in the first sign of a new approach to the way health and social care is monitored after a collapse of confidence in the system based on a single watchdog.

The move by a group of leading care home chains to commission the independent survey is being backed by the watchdog, the Care Quality Commission, which says it points to a future system in which other agencies must share responsibility for demonstrating the safety and quality of care services.

The commission says it will take firm action where there is evidence of services failing, and it is likely to order more inspections of hospitals and care homes that do not show verified evidence of their performance. But it says it cannot run the same intensity of checks at the more than 40,000 sites where care is offered.

David Behan, the CQC's new chief executive, said: "How we regulate a small, three-bed home for people with autism, how we regulate a dental practice and how we regulate a multisite, multimillion-pound teaching hospital needs to be different."

His comments, in an interview with the Guardian, will be seen to mark a new chapter in the CQC's short but troubled history. The resignation last Friday of its chair, Dame Jo Williams, turned the page on the organisation's first phase, in which controversy dogged its creation in 2009 and its work as a super-regulator.

Williams is expected still to join Behan on Tuesday in facing questioning by MPs on the Commons health select committee. But her announcement, following the departure this year of Behan's predecessor, Cynthia Bower, will have drawn much of the sting from what was likely to have been a tempestuous hearing.

Next week's care home survey will be carried out by the polling firm Ipsos Mori and will cover 850 homes run by 13 operators including Anchor, Barchester Healthcare, Care UK and HC-One, which acquired more than 240 homes from the failed Southern Cross group.

Residents and their families will be asked to rate factors including staff, activities, privacy, security and food and to say whether they are happy at their home and whether they would recommend it. Results will be published early next year and the exercise will be repeated next September, potentially involving many more of the 400,000 people in care homes.

The scheme has been initiated under the banner "Your Care Rating" by operators brought together last year by Castleoak Group, a specialist construction company for the care sector, at a summit supported by the Guardian. Douglas Quinn, Castleoak chairman, said: "It will help those looking for a care home to make an informed decision based on residents' real experiences. A great deal of care has been taken in the design and piloting of the survey to make sure that it is accessible to as many residents as possible."

Behan said he had not seen any detail of the survey but the idea was exactly the kind of initiative needed from care providers in a system in which standards were driven up by the actions of agencies of all kinds and by the voices of service users.

The CQC would want to verify the survey and be satisfied on its independence, he said. "But if this innovation comes off and it begins to work, and these providers begin to develop a reputation for quality, then more and more people across the system are going to start following their lead and we will need to develop the way that we work in accordance with that.

"But what the public expects us to do is give an independent check on whether these services are providing quality and safety. So it doesn't remove the need for us to arrive at a judgment and to publish the outcome of that in a way that is clear and accessible."

The CQC has opened a three-month consultation on how it will operate in the period to 2016. Behan acknowledged past failings and promised there would be change. "We have just been through a period in which this organisation has been scrutinised probably more than any other in the public services for a good many years," he said. "One of the hallmarks of a high-performing organisation, which is what I intend us to be, is that it listens to what people are saying about it, it considers that – and then it acts."


Sourced from The Guardian, 9th September 2012.