Dedicated staff and homely atmosphere at St Leonards in Hampshire praised as it tops poll of 21,000 care home residents across Britain
From the outside, it is a pretty undistinguished looking place. Two houses knocked into one on an ordinary street, with walls that its owner says are soon to get a much-needed fresh coat of paint. There is no sign to tell you that this is a care home, let alone possibly the best care home in the UK.
Yet that is what St Leonards rest home on Hayling Island in Hampshire is, according to a recent survey of more than 21,000 care home residents across the country. St Leonards, owned and run by husband and wife team Frank and Mary Bartlett for more than 17 years, came out top in the "Your Care Rating poll" which also included residents of big private and not-for-profit care providers such as Barchester, Care UK, Anchor and the Abbeyfield Society.
Once you step inside the front door, you get an idea of just what it is that won 15-bed St Leonards the top spot. It may not have the most up-to-date decor but there is a homely feel and staff, residents and their families are all keen to pay tribute to the high-quality care and family atmosphere it offers. "It's an amazing place," says Diane Searle, whose 83-year-old mother Joyce Sivers has dementia and lives in the home. "It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do putting my mum into care, but it was like coming home when she came here. Mum is always comfy, they fuss around the residents like they're their own mums and they've been good for me too, giving me support."
Ten of the beds are currently occupied - three are funded or part-funded by social services and the rest are self-funders.
Frank Bartlett, who worked as a medical microbiologist in Saudi Arabia before moving back to the UK to take over the home, says: "The place doesn't look much from the outside, but inside we like to think there's a heart of gold. We try to run a family-friendly care home. The residents are your mums, dads or aunties and we treat them accordingly - like our family."
That means staff making time for "golden moments" with residents, where they just sit and chat or hold their hands. It also means the Bartletts helping out staff with car repair bills or holiday costs where they can, inspiring a rare loyalty in a sector where low pay rates often mean high turnover and inconsistent care. The Bartletts' proud boast is that they have never had to employ agency staff and many of the 14-strong team have been working at the home for years. "The staff are at the heart of it - you need kind, trustworthy staff who care about the people they are looking after," says Mary Bartlett.
High-profile cases of abuse have often dominated coverage of the care home sector. Indeed, on Hayling Island in the past year alone, five care workers have been found guilty of abuse in two separate cases, one involving a home where two staff took humiliating photos of older residents, the other a different home where three staff covered up residents' injuries. For older people or their families considering residential care finding a place that will offer a safe, happy and dignified home can seem a daunting task.
The Your Care Rating poll is only one of myriad different organisations offering reviews of care homes. Others include the "Good Care Guide" and "Find Me Good Care", which is developed and managed by the Social Care Institute for Excellence.
A key reason behind the launch of Your Care Rating, devised two years ago by a group of care home operators, was the scrapping of the star rating system of assessing homes by the social care regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
Your Care Rating chair Douglas Quinn, who also chairs specialist care home construction and development company Castleoak, says that many people working in the care home sector saw the need for a way of providing more information for potential residents - and driving up standards. "It's about finding a way of giving residents a powerful voice, to capture independently what they feel about their care, to understand what they want and see whether they are getting it," says Quinn.
"The old star rating was a great impetus to encourage people to try and get as many of their homes to either good or excellent - and we hope what we're doing can be even more of a driver as it's about residents' views."
Polling is carried out by Ipsos Mori. Care home managers distribute the Your Care Rating questionnaires to residents, but take no further part in the process, with advocates and relatives asked to help if necessary and visual aids available for those who might struggle, for example if they have dementia. Residents then mark elements of their care including staffing, home comforts, having a say and quality of life.
Although Your Care Rating has 32 organisations signed up and says it is the largest survey of care home residents in the UK, it only takes in a small proportion of the 450,000 care home residents. But Quinn says it gives an encouraging snapshot of the sector. The average score for the 1,055 homes rated was 871 points out of a possible 1,000 - St Leonards scored 991.
Quinn says good people are the key ingredient in high-quality care. "A really good care home manager and a good stable team of staff are so important. Displaying compassion, genuine care and a real understanding of people's needs goes a long, long way. Yes, pay may be an issue but it's not the only answer. You have to value staff, and provide career opportunities and training. That helps retain people and deliver that consistency and good quality care."
Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, the organisation that represents care providers, says: "The stuff some people might think important like how deep the carpet is doesn't make for a good service. Obviously you need to have certain minimums on the physical environment but the most important bit is how the person who uses the service experiences it and if you can connect these two things you are very far on the way to delivering quality."
From October, the CQC is reintroducing a new ratings system with four grades from outstanding to inadequate, with every care home awarded a rating by March 2016.
Andrea Sutcliffe, chief inspector of adult social care at the CQC, says: "We will rate adult social care services against the five key questions that matter most to the people who use them - are they safe, caring, effective, well-led and responsive to people's needs?
"Ratings will provide more meaningful information about the quality of the service for providers and the public. It is important for people who use services, their families and carers to clearly see and understand our judgments and how services in their area are performing."
Quinn sees no conflict with the inspectors' ratings system and Your Care Rating which, he stresses, is about making residents' voices heard. Green says care home operators are committed to working with the CQC to improve the quality of care. "The regulator should be identifying when services are failing and if they don't improve, it should be closing them," he says. "We want the sector to be about quality and outcomes - there should be no place for poor quality."
Back at St Leonards, Marian Thompson, 75, is clear on what counts as good for care home residents like her. She says: "It's the staff. They all take trouble with us and it's just so friendly. It's a home from home."
Source; The Guardian