From Cradle to Grave: New System to Rate Care Services

Care homes & childminders in Scotland will be given ratings under a new, easy-to-follow grading system to help customers compare services. The Care Commission, the official watchdog, is adopting the same point scale used by school inspectors to assess education standards. Homes will be marked one to six according to the the quality of life available to residents, the living environment, staffing and management. The move is expected to make it easier for people to choose homes that meet their requirements and give owners an incentive to drive up standards.

A pilot is planned before the end of the year and it is hoped the scheme will be rolled out across Scotland by the end of 2008. A similar grading system is being established for childminders and ultimately the Care Commission intends to use it to assess all the services it regulates. Last week, it emerged care homes in England were to be given hotel-style star rankings.

However, David Wiseman, director of strategic development with the Care Commission, said it wanted to provide more than a single, overall score to reflect the fact that different people had different priorities when selecting a home. He said: “Our research strongly suggests that potential users are not all looking for the same thing – rather, that certain aspects of the same home are more or less important in varying degrees for different users.”

During the pilot, homes will first assess themselves using the new criteria, which are based on the national care standards set by Scottish ministers. When the commission in-spects the premises it will verify the scores and take the final decision on the grades earned. Several factors will be taken into account under the four headings. The staffing score will cover staffing levels, competence and turnover.

People will ultimately be able to find the home’s registration and results on the Care Commission’s website.
The possibility of allowing residents and relatives to submit their comments on homes, the same way internet users provide reviews on hotels and restaurants on line, is also being explored.

Mr Wiseman said legal issues and the potential for malicious contributions were being considered. Concerns have been raised about the information available to the elderly and their relatives when they are searching for a care home. In December 2003, the consumers’ group Which? raised a complaint with the Office of Fair Trading about the care home market.

It asked a series of questions including: “Do consumers have access to good enough information to allow them to make choices?” It also said there was no central measure of performance.

In its response, the OFT noted improvements were already in the pipeline, although it did state clear, upfront information about pricing needed to be available.
The plans for Scotland have been taken forward by a working group including industry representatives.

Mr Wiseman said: “This is an exciting step forward for the Care Commission … We will be able to better assess the success and reaction when the pilot period concludes in March 2007.”

Joe Campbell, chairman of Scottish Care which represents independent care home owners, said: “We are happy to be involved in trying to devise a system which is fair and understandable. Everyone should know exactly what they can expect from a care home.”