Tips for choosing a care home

Finding a suitable care home for you or a loved one can be difficult. Healthwatch England has pulled together some of the best tips provided by the NHS and other organisations in England to help you make the right choice.
Five steps to follow when choosing a care home

Step one - Make sure you have considered all your options

Moving into a care home not only involves changing where you live but it could also cost you a large amount of money.

NHS Choices ‘Your Guide to Care and Support’ advises you to think about the least disruptive and costly options first, such as support to live independently at home or sheltered accommodation.  

Step two - Understand the types of homes available

Care homes can offer permanent residence or provide care until someone is able to live independently or move to a different service. There are two main types of care homes for people who cannot live independently in their own homes.

The first are called ‘residential care homes’. They range in size from small homes to large scale services and offer accommodation and personal care throughout the day and night.

Staff can help with washing, dressing, mealtimes and using the toilet.

Alternatively there are ‘nursing homes’ which, as well as providing the same care as residential services, provide 24 hour medical care from a qualified nurse.

Some care homes specialise in supporting people with specific needs, such as dementia or severe disabilities.  The Care Quality Commission (CQC) regulates care homes and can provide information on both kinds of home.

Step three - Be clear how your care will be funded

If you need support, your local authority might help with the costs of care. Exactly how much you get will depend on your needs and how much you can afford to pay.

The Money Advice Service has produced a guide on paying for care. The first step they advise is contacting the social services department of your local authority to find out whether you’re eligible for funding.

Your local authority has a legal duty to carry out an assessment to find out what help you need. The Money Advice Service has also produced a guide explaining how care needs assessments work and what you should expect.

If you have a complex medical problem, you might qualify for free NHS continuing healthcare funding. Like local authority funding, it is important to find out if you are eligible and to get an assessment.

Step four – Searching for a suitable home

It is important that the home you choose is right for you. Healthwatch Lancashire, which has developed a checklist to help you choose the right home, advises doing your research before you visit a home.

Things to think about include the location of the home, the cost of care and the services the home provides.

You should phone the care home or visit its website and request their brochure to find out more. Check if they have any places available. It is also a good idea to read the latest inspection report about the care home by the CQC and see if your local Healthwatch has visited the service and produced a report.  

NHS Choices has a handy search tool which lets you find out about care homes near you, view what others have said about them, and access the latest CQC inspection reports.

You can also talk to your local Healthwatch or visit their website to find out if they have visited and produced a report about the care homes you are considering.

Step five - Making your choice

How can you tell if the home you are considering is right for you?

Independent Age, with the support of Healthwatch Camden, has developed eight indicators you can use to judge the quality of a care home.

Indicators include: enough staff with the time and skills to do their jobs, and an open environment where resident feedback is sought and used.

Most independent advice recommends making a checklist of things to look out for and questions to ask staff.

Three checklists to help you get started

  1. Age UK has a video that explains some of the key things to look out for when visiting a care home, as well as a checklist to help you choose the right home.

  2. Healthwatch Lancashire has developed the ‘Mum’s test checklist’ based on extensive visits to care homes and conversations with residents.

  3. Independent Age also has a checklist of questions to consider when choosing a home.

For example, what activities are on offer for residents? What is the ratio of staff to residents? Can you access the healthcare you need? Would the home agree to a trial period?

If you’re visiting on behalf of someone else who can’t get to the care home, they can tell you before you visit which things on the checklist are most important to them.

It is also a good idea to record your reflections and to ask follow-up questions when they arise.

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