'Too few care homes getting basics right every time,' watchdog warns

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Too many care homes are under so much pressure that they are not "getting the basics right every time", a care consumer watchdog has warned.

Healthwatch England said some residents were cared for by rushed staff and were having to put up with things like dead plants, rotting window sills, peeling wallpaper and being put in someone else's clothes.

Care homes must provide a "home from home" service, the consumer champion said.

Following visits to 197 care homes across England between January 2016 and April this year, Healthwatch drew up a snapshot of what care looked like for people in the nation's care homes.

While the majority of residents spoken to by Healthwatch representatives said care was good, others highlighted concerns with their care home.

In a new report, Healthwatch said care home residents were "picking up on the strain the system is under" and are not always given the person-centred care they should expect by staff, some of whom were "rushed off their feet".

Some of the examples highlighted in the report include: 

:: One resident saying that call bells for assistance to go to the toilet could go unanswered for an hour.

:: Problems with cleanliness, wallpaper peeling off the wall in one home, dead plants and rotten window sills.

:: One resident saying "laundry is not always returned and worn by others".

:: In some homes residents were given a broad range of activities but in others it was "television or television".

:: Some residents faced "barriers" when trying to access care from a GP or dentist.

The authors of the report said that "too few homes are getting the basics right every time", adding: "Whilst homes are under financial pressure, clearing away dead plants or ensuring that laundry goes back to the right person need not cost a lot of money.

"Such examples do not suggest a culture where care is taken to make residents feel truly at home.

"The best care homes recognise they are people's homes."

The authors concluded: "Focusing on seemingly small things, such as giving residents a choice of what to wear or what time to have dinner, is a vital part of helping residents maintain their independence.

"It also helps prevent minor concerns from escalating into formal complaints.

"Some of the issues raised by residents might not seem important, particularly in light of other pressures homes face, but staff and managers still need to remember that for each resident this is their home.

"An 'it'll do' attitude can never be acceptable."

Imelda Redmond, national director of Healthwatch England, said: "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."

Commenting on the report, Izzi Seccombe, chairwoman of the Local Government Association's Community Wellbeing Board, said: "This study is yet another reminder of the stark reality of the funding crisis facing adult social care, and the urgent need to bring desperately needed stability to the provider market.

"While the £2 billion announced in the Spring Budget for social care was a step in the right direction, it is only one-off funding and social care services still face an annual £2.3 billion funding gap by 2020."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "Everyone deserves to receive high quality care in older age - that is why we have introduced tougher inspections of care services to drive up standards, provided an additional £2 billion for social care, and have committed to consult on the future of social care to ensure sustainability in the long term.

"We are also working with organisations from across the social care sector to implement Quality Matters - a shared commitment to high quality, person-centred adult social care."