Finding a care home: 7 key questions to ask a care home – before you sign anything

Finding a care home: 7 key questions to ask a care home – before you sign anything

Current media reports show that Southern Cross Healthcare, which runs 750 care homes right across the UK, is facing serious financial difficulties. If a solution can’t be found, over 30,000 elderly people may have to be rehomed. It’s a distressing situation for all.
helpFinding a care home can be difficult – and it’s hard to know if you’re making the right choice. It’s vital to ask good questions when you visit, especially about the financial stability of any care home company, how they operate and the morale of the staff.

These 7 key questions will get you started:

1. Does size matter?

Bear in mind that the size of a home, the corporate brand name and any official inspection reports don’t necessarily reflect the quality of care or the day-to-day life that people actually experience in the home. Bigger is not always better, and well-known brand names don’t necessarily provide better care. That’s why it’s vital to visit the home in person – preferably more than once and at different times of the day. It’s also a very good idea to ask people you know in the local area whether they know someone who is resident in a particular care home – and then to ask that person’s family for their views and feedback on the home.

2. How does the care home respond on the phone?

You can gauge a lot from phoning a care home. Do they have time to answer the phone? Is it answered by someone who knows what they’re talking about? Is there a lot of background noise? What questions do they ask you? This is just as important as what you ask them. Do they offer to send you their brochure? How professional do they sound?

3. What’s the manager like?

A good manager will have a very positive effect on his/her staff, and that also filters down into the care given to residents. A defensive manager, on the other hand, may have something to hide – even if it’s their own lack of experience. An overly confident manager may not listen to new ideas or complaints. Again, it comes down to your own judgment and instinct. Does the manager also own the home? If not, how long has he/she been in post? What’s his/her background?

4. Who owns the care home and how stable is the company?

Today there are a relatively small number of large companies who own the majority of care homes in the UK. Is the company financially stable? Are they likely to invest in upgrading the home as and when it needs it? Are they committed to providing care for the long term? It’s heartbreaking to hear of care homes closing and residents having to be split up and sent elsewhere. Find out as much as you can in advance.

5. What percentage of nurses or carers on any given day are brought in from agencies?

Agency carers and nurses are not based at the care home. Instead, they’re a bit like office temps – they go to whichever home needs them on the day, and so they may not know you or be familiar with your needs. The greater the percentage of permanent staff at a care home the better it will be for you.

6. How many fully qualified nurses are there as part of the permanent staff?

What are their specific qualifications? And what about the qualifications held by the other care staff? What’s the staff/resident ratio during the night? What about the ‘after lunch slot’ when staff are taking their own lunch break? And how long has the longest-serving member of staff been at the home?

7. What insurance does the home have?

This could be contents insurance for your possessions, accident insurance, public liability insurance and/or professional indemnity insurance. Does this include insurance to allow staff to help people walk and exercise, etc. If not, and if you’re not very mobile (or you have an accident), the care team is unlikely to help you keep your joints supple and mobile and you may have to pay for regular physiotherapy.

It’s the less obvious questions that give you a better idea of what the home will really be like. Read more here about going into a care home.

And remember, just because you have some savings or a property doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pay for care – no matter what the care home, Social Services or the NHS may have told you.

The NHS has a duty to provide fully-funded NHS Continuing Healthcare (covering 100% of care home fees) for elderly people who are in full-time care primarily for health needs. Read more about going into a care home.


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