The government’s care inspectors, the Care Quality Commission, have just published their three year report on social care, having now inspected all care services in England under their new regime. They found that whilst three quarters of care services are good or outstanding, a fifth of all services need to improve and that rises to a third of nursing homes, which care for people who have the most complex needs. There has been a lot of focus on the role that funding cuts play in this, which is undoubtedly significant: commissioners in some areas are trying to pay so little to their care providers that it is hard to see how those providers could even meet their legal duties such as minimum wage. There needs to be more money put back into the system to avoid catastrophe and the government needs to stop diverting any new social care money into a focus on saving acute hospitals, as has just happened with the Better Care Fund.
But there are other lessons to learn. In this report as in all recent ones, CQC has found that smaller services are more likely to be good than bigger ones. People want to live in somewhere that feels like home, but huge care homes are still being built and registered for older people, and ‘units’ of ten or more beds are still be developed for younger disabled adults.
Staff turnover in social care is over a quarter a year and rising. The model of recruit quickly and cheaply hides huge re-recruitment costs and must contribute to the failings that the inspectors find.
Shared Lives is an approach in which Shared Lives carers are recruited slowly: a three to six month approval process. Shared Lives feels small and homely because it only takes place in the Shared Lives carer’s family home, and the surrounding community. So it perhaps shouldn’t be surprising that CQC once again find that Shared Lives outperforms all other forms of care. Shared Lives carers are trained and paid, and the scheme which recruits, matches and supports them also costs money, but this model is not more expensive: it is consistently significantly lower cost.
Shared Lives is not perfect everywhere. It is coming under increasing pressure from commissioners desperate for even greater savings, who don’t understand that the time and care taken in setting up and supporting Shared Lives is crucial to its safety and success, and also the reason it costs less overall. Some Shared Lives carers are being put at risk of burn out as they are expected to care 24/7, again with risks to people’s wellbeing and ultimately much higher costs. But the lessons from this model are clear: invest time and money in the conditions for success, not managing failure. Focus first and foremost on a good life if you want good services. Ensure rules and regulations are there, but in the background when they’re needed, not the whole focus of everyone’s time and energy. Think small and personal, not big and cheap.
The government is about to consult on social care. This cannot just be a discussion about what social care costs and how to pay for it. It has to be a discussion with what that money is spent on, starting with the ambition to offer Shared Lives to everyone who want it. Almost every area now has a local Shared Lives organisation to build on. Let’s get started.