First, we are talking about large numbers: an estimated 380,000 people live in approximately 17,000 nursing or residential homes in England – 95 per cent of them over 65. There are around three times as many adults in care homes as in general hospital beds. For the foreseeable future people will continue to live in care homes, and they have the same rights to care as the rest of us.
Second, care home residents have complex needs, as the British Geriatrics Society set out in its paper, ‘Quest for quality’. For instance, approximately two-thirds of care home residents are immobile or need assistance with mobility, four-fifths have dementia or other mental impairment, and two-thirds live with urinary or faecal incontinence or both. The median number of prescribed medications is nine per resident. Stroke, movement disorders and other progressive neurological conditions are common, as is progressive cardiorespiratory disease. Most residents suffer recurrent falls.
Third, these health care needs are not consistently well-met. A joint report by the British Geriatrics Society and the Care Quality Commission, ‘Failing the frail’, revealed a patchy and chaotic approach to commissioning and providing health care services for care home residents. These missing services and care gaps included medication review, care planning, access to normal primary care services, rehabilitation after acute illness, and allied health professional input on speech therapy and specialist mental health support. Furthermore, too many residents are admitted to hospital, particularly near the end of their life, for want of advance care planning or access to palliative care. Recent studies have shown that proactive medical review and more responsive support for care home residents can reduce emergency hospital admissions in general and that repeated hospital admissions make little difference to residents’ outcomes.
Fourth, care home staff have major responsibilities for delivering personalised care and support for residents. Yet the Care Quality Commission State of care report in 2012/13 highlighted issues in many homes around risk, safety and safeguarding, medicines management and basic care, with staff recruitment and retention identified as key determinants.
Finally, if we are looking at the need for more integrated working to support older people across several sectors, care homes could play a critical role. There are thousands of facilities - from small private concerns, to those run by social enterprises, charities and large chains - all sitting at complex interfaces with primary, acute and community care, palliative care, mental health care, statutory home care services and housing. It’s a complex web.
On 2 July, The King’s Fund hopes to celebrate some solutions to these problems in its one-day conference on enhancing health care in care homes. It’s part of our wider programme of work on improving services for older people, including our report on making health and care systems fit for an ageing population, and a series of conferences and smaller workshops.
Highlights include an update from some of the Forward View vanguard sites, a focus on the use of telehealth for care home residents, and panel discussions on the role of inspection and regulation and where care homes might fit into new models of integrated care.
Beyond creating some needed heat and light in this key area, we hope the conference generates some real momentum and cross-agency collaboration, so that NHS England continues to prioritise it and the incoming government doesn’t forget it.