The findings were presented by Healthwatch Reading to the borough’s Health and Wellbeing Board meeting at the Civic Centre on 18 January 2019.
Our staff team visited the homes over 10 months, carrying out in-depth conversations with 213 people, which equates to one-third of the total number of people that homes have capacity to accommodate.
A range of local organisations that fund and plan care for health and social care for older people in Reading have formally responded to our findings.
The Conversations about Care report includes more than 70 direct quotes from residents about their lives and shows:
- The top three areas residents want improved are food choices, the way that care home staff respond to them, and access to activities
- Three-quarters said they could access a GP when they needed but this was much lower for dentists (21%) and opticians 26%)
- Many people felt lonely despite being surrounded by their peers
- There is a large variation in the types of homes – ranging from small locally owned and run businesses, to large providers who are part of national care home chains
- Environments of care homes ranged from a minority that felt ‘institutional’ to those that had a ‘homely’ feel or were very dementia-friendly
- There are a range of other initiatives from around the UK that could be adopted in Reading to improve care home residents’ wellbeing and interaction with others, such as toddler group visits to homes; school children ‘teaching’ residents on tablet technology that could help them communicate more with others; introducing hen-keeping on care home land to build into residents’ daily routine; and the free BBC Music Memories website which allows people to search old TV themes and popular or classical music by decade, to help trigger memories, especially for people with dementia.
Our report makes nine recommendations, including calls for more work to be done on regularly capturing the experience of care home residents and making them aware of how they can have their say or raise concerns if they need to.
How the NHS and council responded to our findings
- Reading Borough Council said the report was timely as it had just started work on redrafting contract and service specifications for care homes (which set out what kind of care people should receive), …'therefore the findings of the Healthwatch Reading report can positively influence standards of care looking forward’. The council added the findings about loneliness were ‘the most surprising’, and it was ‘a shame’ that people felt like this in a home environment and this area needed to be explored further.
Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group said it was ‘grateful for the research’ and the ‘insight it offers us’. It said it would use the findings to see ‘how we can increase residents’ involvement in care planning [when GPs review newly arrived care home residents’ health needs] and ensure plain English explanations are provided’.
NHS England responded by saying a review of local dental services was underway, which would include the needs of older patients, both in the community and in care homes. In terms of eye health care, which NHS England also plans and funds, it said the Healthwatch Reading report had highlighted that a list of 42 providers that could provide home-based sight tests, needed to be made available so care homes knew who they could contact to arrange visits for their residents.