It is unacceptable for a care home to punish a resident for raising concerns. This would be a breach of existing regulations, and the CQC will investigate any such cases. Although the Government do not collect figures on this, the CQC collects data on care home evictions and seeks assurances that visits are allowed by care homes on an ongoing basis. We are exploring ways to improve the complaints system and the quality of care.
My Lords, may I urge the Minister to do even more than he suggested today? We know that some care homes are still being very highly restrictive on visits. The Alzheimer’s Society, the Relatives and Residents Association and other organisations report that many relatives are frightened to go through the homes complaints system for fear of reprisals such as visit bans, or even evictions in the most extreme cases. The CQC will not investigate specific complaints. Will he change that policy and give support to relatives who wish to make legitimate complaints?
I thank the noble Lord for raising this issue. I am sure he will recognise, from when we have worked together on a problem, that the first question I ask officials is: what is the problem and what are we doing about it? When I asked this question, I found that my colleague Gillian Keegan, Minister for Care and Mental Health, has met relatives and residents’ associations to hear directly about their experiences and focus on how we could strengthen the CQC role. In addition, in the Living with Covid-19 strategy, we are reviewing a range of measures in place for homes, including visitor restrictions. The updated position will be set out in guidance by 1 April. We are encouraging representatives, patients and patients’ groups to come forward and feed into that.
My Lords, I declare my role as chair of the National Mental Capacity Forum. There are many people with impaired capacity in care homes, whose mental state is deteriorating through lack of stimulation, inability to be taken outside and lack of general overall mental activities. Does the CQC have any idea of the number of people with impaired capacity still subject to restricted visiting by their relatives?
The noble Baroness has identified a potential issue that we have to address, which is drilling down into detail. One of the things that the CQC does is to look at aggregate numbers of complaints and concerns. Of course, there is a Local Government Ombudsman who looks at this issue as well. We are looking at ways where that works and where it does not work, and at how we could improve the system. This is all part of the ongoing review to build up a better, integrated health and care system.
My Lords, on the issue of carers hesitant to make complaints to care providers, the confusion and muddle over the current complaints system and the roles of the care home, the CQC and the ombudsman compound the problem. Does this not underline the urgent need for the review of the current arrangements to ensure that people making complaints about their loved ones feel reassured and protected through the process and comforted that appropriate action will be taken?
Having looked at the different procedures, I am sure that the noble Baroness is absolutely right. One thing that we want to do is to ensure that the guidance is quite clear. The CQC collects certain data and the ombudsman can investigate certain cases, but the CQC cannot investigate individual cases. It clearly is confusing and one thing that we want to do to improve the system is to make sure that we have a better complaints system and, overall, a better quality of care for patients all round.
My Lords, the provision of high-quality, personalised care in residential care settings is likely to reduce the chance of complaints being raised in the first place. The Skills for Care workforce review showed that only 44% of care staff have any training on dementia. Will the Government commit to all social care staff receiving tier 2 training in the dementia training standards framework?
The noble Baroness raises a very important point. When we look at the current landscape in the social care sector, it is clear that people do not really understand the overall sector. One thing that we are looking at in regard to the voluntary register is encouraging care staff to come forward to register. Registration includes their standard of education and the qualifications they have received. We will look at how we can improve and have a more consistent qualification system, so that being a care worker is a more rewarding vocation in the future.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that restrictive practices about visiting in care homes extend not just to relatives and friends visiting but to the outside people who come in to provide stimulation to residents? These include people who bring in animals, for example, and people who do physiotherapy or all sorts of word games and so on. Those people are also restricted now by some homes, though not all. That results in further deterioration in the mental and emotional health of residents, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay.
One thing that has clearly upset a lot of people is that they are unable to visit. This means not just relatives but, as the noble Baroness rightly said, people who enter care homes to offer healthcare, stimulation and other services to residents. These issues were brought up, I understand, in a meeting with my colleague, the Minister for Care and Mental Health, when she met residents’ associations. It is very important that we recognise all the problems and that we tackle this in a holistic way to make sure that, as we improve the quality of our social care system, and make it more joined-up and integrated with the health system, we are aware of all these problems so that the patient experience is far better all the way through.
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend the Minister and noble Lords opposite that it is very important that people can visit their family and their friends in care homes. My husband has had a copy of Wisden from last year for a friend who has been in a care home, and he has not been able to deliver it.
I want to make a wider point about the importance of focusing on social care, despite other preoccupations of the Government. How many care homes do we have now in this country? Is provision going up, or do we have a serious problem?
I am afraid I do not have the detailed answers to my noble friend’s questions, but I will write to her. On the overall sentiment behind that question, it is clear that people now recognise—as we have an ageing population and people are living longer—that we should not see social care as a sort of bolt-on or a Cinderella service. It should be properly integrated, which is why we published the paper on health and social care integration and why we want to make sure that people and patients, all the way through their lives, have access to good-quality care, whether in the current health system or in the care system, at whatever stage of their lives they need it.