Quality outcomes for care homes

Kate Bermingham , Communications Manager and Duncan Tree, Head of Policy and Performance


Following the recent report in Community Care, announcing the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) plans to inspect care homes less frequently due to imminent budget cuts, many service users and their families will be concerned about how this will affect standards of care.

As a society we are facing a rapidly increasing older population, combined with sharp decreases in local government spending on social care: as a result, quality of care in residential homes is a real concern. It is less than five years since the chilling Winterbourne View Panorama investigation revealed the very worst consequences of inadequate inspections and safeguarding procedures.

We know what good care looks like. The CQC’s Fundamental Standards of Care and the Care Act (2014) set out in clear terms that the service user’s wellbeing must be the top priority, dignity and respect are paramount, and care must be tailored to the individual. The delivery of excellent care is rarely hampered by a lack of understanding about best practice: it is primarily hampered by a lack of resources.

Well-organised volunteer programmes have the potential to play a pivotal role in addressing this issue. As Chris Naylor noted in The Kings Fund ‘Volunteering in Health and Care’ report (2013): “There are huge opportunities for volunteering to help transform health and social care services and bring about real improvements for patients and the wider public…Many organisations lack a strategic vision for the role of volunteering within their workforce, and so miss the opportunities that exist.”

As we stated in our recent paper ‘Volunteering and Social Action in Health and Care’, we believe that volunteers are in a unique position to build bridges between care homes and the wider community. Well-managed and effectively-resourced volunteer programmes can help to reengage those who have become socially isolated. They can also boost the health and well-being of the volunteers and beneficiaries, and help to build stronger, more inclusive communities at a time of severe public sector cuts.

Around three million people volunteer in health and social care in England today. We believe there is a reservoir of social capital among volunteers and in local communities that can and should be engaged more energetically and in enhanced roles. Well-managed and effectively resourced volunteer programmes have the potential to improve quality outcomes in residential homes if the volunteers, volunteer project managers and service managers work together to deliver excellent care.

Experienced and well-trained volunteers have an opportunity to assist the CQC in ensuring that high standards of care are maintained in residential homes. By involving themselves in the social life of residential homes and building close relationships with service users, volunteers can help service users to communicate their wishes and concerns to service managers and CQC inspectors. This could be in the form of praising examples of excellent care or simply confirming that care is safe and reasonable. In some cases, it may be necessary for volunteers to help service users report inadequate care and ensure that their voices are heard.

Well-managed and effectively resourced volunteer programmes can and do make a valuable contribution to care services throughout the UK. We currently spend less than 1% of GDP on social care services: The Kings Fund predicts a social care funding gap of £2.8bn to 3.5bn by 2020. It will be challenging to deliver excellent care under these circumstances, but well-managed volunteer programmes can add significant value if they are properly integrated into care services.