Five things to consider when choosing a care home

Finding the best care home for you or a loved one can be difficult. We’ve pulled together some of the best tips provided by the NHS and other organisations in England to help you make the right choice.
Elderly man drinking a cup of tea

Step one - Make sure you have considered all your options

Moving into a care home not only involves changing where you live but it could also cost you a large amount of money.

The NHS guide to care homes advises you to think about the least disruptive and expensive options first, such as support to live independently at home or sheltered accommodation.  

Step two - Understand the different types of care homes 

Care homes can offer permanent residence or provide care until someone can live independently or move to a different service. There are two main types of care homes for people who cannot live independently in their own homes.

  • Residential care homes range in size from small homes to large-scale services and offer a place to live and personal care throughout the day and night. Staff can help with washing, dressing, mealtimes and using the toilet.
  • Nursing homes provide the same care as residential services, while also providing 24 hour medical care from a qualified nurse.

Some care homes focus on supporting people with specific needs, such as dementia or severe disabilities. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) regulates care homes and can provide information on both kinds of home.

Step three - Be clear about who will fund your care

If you need support, your local authority might help with the costs of care. Exactly how much you get will depend on your needs and how much you can afford to pay.

The Money Advice Service has produced a guide on paying for care. The first step they advise is contacting the social services department of your local authority to find out whether you’re eligible for funding.

Your local authority has a legal duty to carry out an assessment to find out what help you need. The Money Advice Service has also produced a guide explaining how care needs assessments work and what you should expect.

If you have a complex medical problem, you might qualify for free NHS continuing healthcare funding. As with local authority funding, it is important to find out if you are eligible and to get an assessment.

Step four – Find the right home for you

Healthwatch Lancashire has developed a checklist to help you choose the right home, with advice on doing your research before you visit a home.

Things to think about include:

  • The home's location
  • The cost of care
  • The home's services

You can also:

  • Phone the care home or visit their website to request a brochure
  • Check if they have any places available.
  • Read the latest inspection report about the care home by the CQC.
  • See if your local Healthwatch has visited the service and produced a report.

The NHS website has a handy search tool that lets you find care homes near you, view what others have said about them, and access the latest CQC inspection reports.

Step five - Making your choice

How can you tell if the home you are considering is right for you? With the support of Healthwatch Camden, Independent Age has developed eight indicators you can use to judge the quality of a care home.

It is also good to make a checklist of things to look out for and questions to ask staff. For example:

  • What activities are on offer for residents?
  • What is the ratio of staff to residents?
  • Can you access the healthcare you need?
  • Would the home agree to a trial period?
  • What is the home's visiting policy?

If you're visiting on behalf of a loved one who can't get to the care home, ask them to tell you before you visit which things on the checklist are most important to them.

It is also a good idea to record your reflections and ask any follow-up questions you might have.

Three checklists to help you get started

  1. Age UK has a video that explains some of the key things to look out for when visiting a care home, as well as a checklist to help you choose the right home.
  2. Healthwatch Lancashire has developed the 'Mum's test checklist' based on extensive visits to care homes and conversations with residents.
  3. Independent Age also has a checklist of questions to consider when choosing a home.

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