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Drive for quality or run for the hills?

The below article featured in the October issue of Caring Times. By Tom Robinson, Director, Healthcare Advisory team, Cushman & Wakefield.

Care homes have seen a marked improvement in quality over the last 10 years. It would be unwise to be so bold as to say that the market is perfect, but generally there continues to be a drive for quality, with the current generation of care homes being remarkably different to the converted buildings which were at one point the mainstay of the market.

It is important, however, to establish how we perceive quality and to gain a broader conception of how quality can be delivered within the industry. I am sure we can all agree the vital role that the physical environment of a care home plays in delivering quality. Recent years have seen new benchmarks set for the architectural diversity, spatial provision, range of facilities and general thoughtfulness in the design of care homes. In fact the current generation of care homes are able to create an atmosphere for residents which is far closer to the reality of life outside of supported environments.

Quality, though, is a two pronged fork. It is partly about property, but it is also about the provision of care itself.

During a recent inspection of a care home I discovered a very good example of high quality care delivery in action. It was the simple use of a cinema room to fuel a group of residents’ passion for films – an interest which could easily have gone unnoticed by the care staff if they had busied themselves with more routine matters. This is not revolutionary by any means, but it did make a clear statement about the quality of care delivery.  The management and staff team had a strong focus on not only providing care in medical terms, but providing excellence in care through enrichment of the residents’ lives.

We must also recognise the largely underappreciated fact that focusing on quality of care does not only make a genuine difference to the lives of the residents, but also to the business.

Valuation in the UK is very much focused on bricks and mortar. That’s fine when you are looking at the quality of facilities, but by valuing care homes as businesses we get to see first-hand how the standard of care delivery in medical, compliance and regulatory terms can have a positive impact on trade. Gaining a reputation for quality in this form of care will reinforce occupancy, help grow fees and, presuming everything else is in order, costs will fall towards the bottom line.

Furthermore, taking this approach attracts and retains the best staff. Those who see care as a vocation rather than simply a means to an end are likely to be better carers. As such it becomes the case that quality care when delivered in a commercial manner becomes reinforcing.

Thankfully, my observation that the quality of care homes have seen a marked improvement in the last 10 years is based on more than simply innovation of property. It’s also a measure of innovation in the quality of care delivery, something we have seen in care homes big and small, with fee profiles at the top and at the bottom of the spectrum. We have also seen care homes fail and fall into the clutches of administration and the blame being laid upon an inability to invest in the property sufficiently, when in practice it was more about the lack of focus on quality care.

The drive for quality is more than a race to the top, it is about maximising what facilities are available within the given budget and promoting excellence in the delivery of care to enrich the existence of their residents, whatever the constraints of the physical building. It should not see smaller operators running for the hills, but instead embracing excellence in care. No matter what budget they work with, they should brace themselves against many of the market pressures and ensure that a viable, stratified care home sector remains.