Visiting rights and responsibilities

Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care at the Care Quality Commission

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Did you have someone come to visit you at the weekend? A regular family visit catching up on the gossip? Or an old friend you’ve not seen for ages, so many stories to tell? Did you have tea and cakes or share a meal together? Did you have fun, forgetting the worries that sometimes trouble you?

So many of us will have had that pleasure and will be eagerly anticipating the next time we open our homes to welcome guests. Why should that be any different if we are living in a care home? Of course it shouldn’t and good homes understand that, making it clear that these are people’s homes. We see many examples of care homes making it easy for family and friends to visit within a welcoming, friendly environment.

But what if your friend or family member could not visit you in your care home because their visits had been restricted after they had raised concerns about your care? Or perhaps you are putting up with poor care because you are afraid that you might be asked to leave if you or someone on your behalf raised concerns?

Sadly, this is the experience of some people living in care homes — cut off from their loved ones; living in fear; or having to get used to new surroundings because they have had to move. Of course I am not saying this is everyone’s experience but I am aware of too many examples and the times this is being raised with CQC by individuals and groups like Your Voice Matters are rising.

That is why we have published information to clarify the rights of people living in care homes and the responsibilities of providers. Enabling concerns to be raised and residents of care homes to welcome visitors isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the law and is set out in the regulations all care providers are obliged to follow when they register with CQC.

But it struck me when we shared these with the campaign group Your Voice Matters earlier this year that the legal framework is not very accessible for the public. So we decided to develop the information into something that the public and providers could use more easily.

The various groups we work with who run helplines, like the Relatives and Residents Association and Action on Elder Abuse, have regularly shared with us the lack of confidence relatives have that they will get a fair hearing if they raise concerns. This cannot be right. It is hard enough for anyone to make the decision to go into a care home but even harder if they do not feel their worries will be listened to and acted upon. I hope that the information‎ we have published this week will help to restore some of that confidence.

As the regulator we have an important role to play in setting expectations, monitoring what is happening and then inspecting, reporting and taking action where necessary. The expectations and provider’s responsibilities are clearly set in the regulations and are made clearer in the guidance we have published. There is no excuse for not knowing what to do.

Our monitoring already includes ‎listening to the experiences of people who are using services, their families and carers, as this gives us valuable information about when to inspect and what issues to focus on.

In the media flurry yesterday of the Victoria Derbyshire programme; You and Yours; and now in the press, Martin Green, Chief Executive of Care England said to the BBC that “it would be useful if the CQC could keep track of how many incidents there are of relatives being prevented visits following complaints, and of residents being asked to leave.”

I welcome the suggestion and as we improve the way we monitor care services we will explore how we can collect this information on a regular basis.

We already ask about complaints on inspections and check with residents and relatives whether they know how to raise concerns and if they feel listened to. This will continue to be a strong feature of our inspections and the reports we publish. If we find providers are in breach of the regulations, we will use our enforcement powers to take action.

But, frankly it should not take regulations or action from the regulator‎ to make this happen. Care homes are people’s homes. They, their family and friends should not live in fear of being penalised for raising concerns.

I know that good care home providers understand this — they encourage people to raise concerns so they can improve and they create an open, inclusive atmosphere in the care home which can be a joy to visit. That’s what everyone needs to do because it is what people living in care homes have every right to expect.

We make sure health and social care services provide people with safe, effective, compassionate, high-quality care and we encourage care services to improve.

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