Winning hearts in your local community

By CHM Online freelance journalist Eleanore Robinson

Public perception of the quality of care services remains stubbornly low, despite the fact that the actual users of care services are generally satisfied with the care they receive.

Respected health think tank The King’s Fund recently reported public dissatisfaction levels with care of 34 per cent, while another study of local authority care services reported a one in four (26 per cent) satisfaction rate – unchanged since 2015.

This contrasts sharply with the Adult Social Care Survey 2017-18, which found 65 per cent of state-funded service users were “extremely” or “very satisfied” and only 2 per cent were “extremely” or “very dissatisfied”.

This is strengthened by the latest Your Care Rating survey of care home residents and their families which found that 92 per cent of residents were happy living in their care home and 90 per cent of families and friends said it seemed a happy place to live.

So why the difference?

Firstly, it is important to note that the King’s Fund results reflect the public’s perception of care rather than the direct experience of users.  Views come from family, friends and the media, amongst others, which has included Panorama’s expose of abuse at Winterbourne View care home in 2011, as well as numerous documentaries and newspaper articles exposing poor practice and neglect.

The King’s Fund itself notes: “When interpreting these results, it is important to take into account the lack of public understanding about social care services…as well as the fact that most respondents will not have any experience of using those services.”

And, fuelling disquiet with the sector, believes Care England chief executive Professor Martin Green, is that thinking about social care forces people to think about their own future need for social care, which he describes as “a very difficult ask”. He says: “No-one wants to confront their own vulnerabilities.”

Equally problematic is the fact that government’s response to the social care funding crisis is to create new taxes, which is not going to be popular with the public. Disappointment at the lack of public funding for social care, as well as the current lack of political strategy for the sector are not helping much either.  

Restoring public faith
So, what can care providers do to restore faith in the sector?

Some providers have opened their doors to the local community in an attempt to bust any myths that may exist about what goes on in a care home.

Care Home Open day, which takes place on June 28 this year, focuses solely on raising awareness of the positive side of care. Now in its seventh year, only a small proportion of the estimated 11,000 care homes in England take part and there is little information on what impact it has had. But, as Green explains: “This is a long term project.”

A few event meet the ‘enemy’ head on, and are inviting the media to come and witness for themselves the quality of services on offer good care services can make. Channel 4, for example, has screened the programme, Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds, which has demonstrated the affirmative effects of intergenerational activities in care homes to positive effect.  

St Monica Trust, which took part in the first series, has now gone one step further, and introduced a community development team to help older people in Bristol to make the most of life in the communities where they live. One of the Care Quality Commission’s key lines of enquiry is whether there are strong links with the local community and how has the service strengthened relationships beyond the key organisations. This makes it clear that engaging with the local community is in the provider’s interest in more ways than one.

Recruitment drive
Social care recruitment campaigns in England and Wales aim to raise awareness of the rewards of a career in social care. The English campaign is led by Skills for Care and chief executive Sharon Allen accepts that it is a long term challenge to change public perceptions of care. Only 1.6million people access care services – significantly less than those using the NHS – so awareness of the sector and its benefits is low .

She said: “There is no magic wand that you can ping and that’s the answer. But, I am supportive of anything that is a positive profile raiser for the sector.”

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