We were delighted to read in the annual Care Quality Commission report that the Shared Lives sector again is one of the highest performing forms of regulated social care, along with hospices. 92% of Shared Lives services inspected in 2015/16 were rated as “good or outstanding”, which is an increase on last year’s sector-beating results of 85%. Although the number of Shared Lives inspections is relatively small, the sector also has a remarkably high proportion of ‘outstanding’ services. I’d like to pay tribute to everyone involved in Shared Lives who works so hard to create this level of success in an ever more challenging world.

The Shared Lives results were bright spots in a report which also found health and care services overspending on their reduced budgets and which warned that adult social care may have reached the ‘tipping point’ beyond which it becomes unsustainable.

How much can we read into these results? When results are consistently this good, year after year, we feel confident in their accuracy, but of course you can’t put the value of people’s lives or their happiness into inspection ratings. There will always be anomalies between people’s experiences of social care support and what inspectors find when they visit. Some argue that the whole concept of inspection is outdated and it should be possible to judge the quality and safety of services simply by collecting and using the right data. Personally I think that both data collection and inspection have a role, and that both can be improved but that neither will ever be able to tell a complete story.

The CQC has started to attempt to narrow the gap between inspection report and experience by employing experts by experience in some inspections. To me, this is crucial: as people with learning disabilities at the organisation CHANGE have pointed out, the best way to ensure that everyone working with people with learning disabilities (and I think this is true for other groups) value and respect those people, is for all of us working in ‘the system’ to encounter regularly disabled people who are our colleagues and peers, not just our ‘customers’ or ‘clients’.

We are also trying to support the work of Shared Lives schemes and the inspectors, through our support for local services and initiatives such as a Charter which experts by experience (our Shared Lives Ambassadors) have worked on and a quality commitment scheme which will involve schemes talking with local people about what works and what they want to change. On the data side, we are rolling out an outcome measuring tool developed by Kent University which is using a web portal to provide schemes with their local data and us with anonymised national data.

If we can bring together all of these views of our sector: lived experience, inspection and data, then we will be able to say with ever more confidence, that Shared Lives is an outstanding example of social care.

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