An ageing population means there are increasing numbers of people in the UK struggling to get the care they need. A recent study by Age UK has found an estimated 1.6 million people aged over 65 have unmet needs for care, and about 40% of older people don’t feel they have enough support to manage their health conditions. That’s only expected to increase in the future. One forecast from the Alzheimer’s Society, for example, suggests the number of people with dementia in the UK is set to double by 2051.
There are older people who receive additional help in the home – either via family and friends acting as carers or through home care services companies. This may only be on a temporary basis, while someone recovers from a fall, for example, or gets used to being at home after a stay in hospital. Or it may be a longer-term arrangement.
Studies have shown that caring for older people at home can be just as good, if not better, than hospital care. Research in 2021 by the University of Oxford suggested that hospital admission may cause acute confusion, reduce mobility and accelerate the transition to residential care. The benefits of home care, in contrast, include keeping a loved one in familiar surroundings, helping them maintain independence and the involvement of family and friends, as well as being flexible around their evolving needs.
It can, however, be difficult to know where to start. Here, Diane Dacosta, operations group manager at Home Instead Greenwich and Bexley, gives her advice for choosing the right home care provider for you and your loved one:
1 Decide what type of care you need
The levels of domiciliary care services can vary greatly – from companionship visits and personal care, to respite and live-in care. Have a think about what level of care your loved one needs and what they can afford. “Some clients don’t know what they want at first,” Dacosta says. “We may get a call after a family member has visited over Christmas, for example, and realised their loved one isn’t coping.” Some of the tasks that care professionals can help with include getting in and out of bed, washing, preparing meals, cleaning, and taking trips to appointments or leisure activities. “Sometimes we might start off with one visit a week if someone is reluctant to have care,” Dacosta adds. “We can build it up slowly.”
Some providers may offer visits as short as 15 minutes, others – like Home Instead – have a minimum visit time of one hour. This is important as it allows enough time to adequately deliver the care-related tasks in the home, but to also build a trusted bond with clients and truly consider their overall needs.
2 Do your research
It’s a good idea to look at inspection reports from the Care Quality Commission and reviews on the Homecare.co.uk website before settling on a provider, Dacosta says. You may also want to ask neighbours or friends for any recommendations if they have been receiving home care. Once you have a shortlist, arrange to meet with the company in your loved one’s home and ask as many questions as possible. “Make sure the service will be tailored to your loved one’s needs,” Dacosta adds. “They should be promoting independence and dignity.”
3 Ask about matching with a care professional
You’ll want your loved one to feel comfortable with the person coming into their home. So ask about how care professionals are recruited at your preferred provider. What qualifications or experience will they have, and are reference and background checks carried out? How important is it to you that their interests are similar? “We are guests in a client’s home,” Dacosta says. “Having somebody in their personal space can be quite daunting. We ask about their interests, what they like doing, and their personalities, so that we can match them with a care professional and they can build a meaningful relationship.”
4 How consistent or flexible is the service?
As your loved one’s needs change, so too may the level of care that they need. You should ask a provider how flexible their service can be and what is required to expand or contract the number of hours or level of support as required. You may also want to check what the process is if a care professional is sick or needs to reschedule, and whether there are any fees associated if you need to make a schedule change.
5 What about training?
Tied to the flexibility of service is the training that a care professional will be required to have to be able to provide different levels of support and adapt to the changing needs of a client. What training do they have before they start work and during their employment? How many have a recognised qualification in health and social care? “All of our care professionals follow career pathways and can access professional accredited training,” Dacosta says. “We offer enhanced specialist training, such as dementia and Parkinson’s training, catheter and stoma care, and end of life care.”
6 Think about costs and terms and conditions
Providers should be upfront about the costs and policies around billing, cancellations, and any other charges you’ll need to cover, such as travel. Some may be open to a short trial period and provide advice about securing funding help from local authorities. “We always send out a price list to clients,” Dacosta says. “Some of them do direct payments through social services and will top up. Others are funded through the local clinical commissioning group.”
7 How will the provider communicate with you?
Ask how providers will communicate with a loved one’s family and friends, and whether care professionals will keep records of each visit that can be accessed and discussed. Families should be able to easily check-in and monitor what is happening in the home for their peace of mind. At Home Instead, for example, there’s a digital care management system and app that’s used to schedule calls and monitor visits. “Even if a family is not nearby, they can stay up to speed on what’s happening,” Dacosta adds. “Communication is key.”
To find out more about how you, or someone you care for, can continue to live their best life, visit homeinstead.co.uk/home-care-for-your-family