How to know if a care home is good

Reviewed by Helen Davies-Parsons

Once it is decided that a care home is the best option for your parent or relative, it’s natural to feel concerned about selecting the right one. You want assurance that the home will be a positive environment for them, and provide care to a standard that meets their needs and makes them feel comfortable and safe.

Once you know the type of care your parent needs, and have narrowed your search to some potentially suitable options (based on location etc), it’s time to dig deeper to determine where they will be most happy, safe and well-cared for.

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Here are four important steps you should take to thoroughly assess a care home before making a final decision.

Check reviews and ratings online

If you haven’t already, the first thing to do is investigate reviews and ratings online.

Websites like carehome.co.uk and lottie.org are the ‘TripAdvisor’ of care homes, and a good place to start for ratings and reviews. You should also check the Care Quality Commission website.  The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is the independent regulator that inspects and rates care homes.

On the CQC website, you can search the care homes on your shortlist and check what rating the CQC has given them (Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement, Inadequate). However, don’t just rely on the rating. Read the most recent inspection reports as well – ratings will give you a general overview but the reports provide the crucial details.

It’s also worth checking Google reviews and Trustpilot for reviews from relatives.

Ask a local GP or go on NextDoor

Local knowledge is king, so it’s always worth checking with your parent’s GP and locals about your shortlist of care homes.

Your parent’s GP may have direct experience working with these care homes and can provide professional opinions based on their observations.

Tapping into online community networks like NextDoor can be incredibly helpful too. NextDoor is a platform where neighbours can connect and share recommendations, concerns, and experiences. By posting enquiries or searching for past discussions about local care homes, you can gain firsthand perspectives from people who have personal connections to these homes.

Assess how the care home responds to an initial enquiry

If there’s an enquiry facility on the website of the care home, put an enquiry in and measure how long it takes for them to come back to you.

On your initial call or email contact, important questions to ask are what the fees would be for your parent or relative (based on their care needs), whether they have any vacancies (if not, how long the waiting list is), and what types and levels of care they provide. It’s also worth checking what the fees include, what they don’t include, and whether / how they might change over time.

Visit the care home and observe closely

You should now have narrowed down your local options to a shortlist. At this point, the best way to know if a care home is good is to pay a visit. Before visiting, it’s always a good idea to make an appointment at a time when the manager is available to answer questions.

We recommend preparing a list of questions before you go, in order to cover everything that would be important for your parent or relative. More on this in the next section.

When you visit, observe the attitudes and demeanour of the staff and residents. A good sign is a warm welcome from staff, and if both the staff and residents seem happy and engaged.

Observe the decoration and environment as well – are the bedrooms clean, nicely decorated and personalised? Do resident’s rooms have accessible, en-suite facilities? Do residents have access to gardens and outdoor space? What does it smell like? Take a look at the menu too – does the food look appetising?

Last but not least, check the safety elements of the home – does it feel secure? Are the staff responding to calls for assistance from residents in a timely manner? (3-5 minutes is not uncommon)

Ask lots of questions

Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions during your visit, and ask questions to different staff members and residents.

If you don’t have the luxury of time to visit the care home, arrange a call with the care home manager to go over your questions.

Questions for the manager

Care, Security and Fees

  • What’s included in the fee and what costs extra? A good care home normally includes accommodation, meals, basic care services, laundry, and room cleaning, activities and access to healthcare.
  • What would my parent’s care plan look like?  Your parent’s care plan should be focused on their wishes and needs – their likes, dislikes, personal preferences – and this should be reviewed whenever there is a change in their care needs or monthly as a minimum.
  • Do you offer a trial period?  Good care homes usually offer a four-week trial period to ensure your parent feels comfortable and that the home meets your and their expectations.
  • What is the ratio of staff to residents during the day and night? If your parent requires nursing care, you should look for a minimum 1:5 ratio of staff to residents during the day, and 1:8 during the night. Otherwise, 1:6/7 staff to residents during the day and 1:10 at night is sufficient.
  • What is the ratio of employed vs agency staff? A good home should have a core team of employed staff to ensure good continuity of care and cohesion, with supplementary agency staff as needed.
  • What happens in an emergency? What is the procedure? The emergency procedure should include immediate assessment by trained staff, contacting emergency services, and informing the resident’s family promptly.
  • How is medication administered? Medication should be administered by trained staff following a strict schedule and recorded in each resident’s care plan to ensure accuracy and safety.
  • How do residents call for help from their rooms? The home should have a good system whereby residents can alert staff when they need assistance. These can be fixed push buttons or pull cords located by the bed and in the bathroom, and / or wireless wearable devices.
  • How do you communicate with and involve resident’s families and relatives?  A good care home should maintain regular communication with families through scheduled meetings and newsletters. Some may also have a dedicated family portal where you can check updates and care plans.
  • What security is there for residents? A good care home should have 24/7 security, including CCTV, secure entry systems.
  • Do you have onsite or regular visits from health and wellbeing professionals (i.e. GPs, nurses, dentists, opticians, hairdressers, podiatrists)? It’s important to understand the regularity of visits from health and wellbeing professionals and what additional costs these can incur.

Quality of life

  • What activities do you offer for residents? A good care home should offer a wide range of activities including arts and crafts, exercise classes, music therapy, and social events to keep residents engaged and active.
  • Is there good WiFi / mobile phone network in the resident rooms as well as the common areas? You want the care home to have strong and reliable WiFi and mobile phone network coverage in both common areas and resident rooms so your parent or relative can stay connected with friends and family and access the internet.
  • What do residents get in their room? What furniture do they have and what kinds of personal items can they bring from home? Essential furniture such as a bed, wardrobe, bedside table, and chair should be provided. Residents should also be allowed and encouraged to bring personal items from home, such as photographs, favourite blankets, and small pieces of furniture, to make their space feel more like home.
  • Can residents choose their routine (when they get up and when they go to bed)? Residents should be supported to make their own choices as far as they are able, including choosing their own daily routines.
  • How are meals prepared? Are meals cooked onsite at the home? Do you cater for special dietary requirements? Ideally meals are prepared onsite using fresh ingredients. They should also cater to special dietary requirements, such as vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, or medically necessary diets, to ensure all residents have nutritious and enjoyable meals.
  • Can residents cook/ wash for themselves if they wish? A good care home should provide facilities for residents who wish to cook or do their own laundry, promoting independence for those who are able and prefer to manage these tasks themselves.
  • Do you provide a laundry and room cleaning service? Is this included in the price? A good care home should offer laundry and room cleaning services, with these services typically included in the overall price.
  • How often do residents get outside? Is there transport to enable visits to local attractions? A good care home should facilitate regular outdoor activities and provide transport for visits to local attractions, ensuring residents have the opportunity to enjoy fresh air and engage with the wider community.
  • When can residents have visitors? Can visitors dine with residents or stay overnight? Are pets allowed to visit? A good care home should have flexible visiting hours, allow visitors to dine with residents, and offer overnight accommodation for guests if needed. Additionally, they should permit pets to visit, understanding the positive impact of pets on residents’ well-being.

Questions for care staff

  • How long have you worked here?
  • Do you work for the care home or for an agency?
  • Do you enjoying working here?
  • What hours do you work? How do the rotas operate?
  • What kind of training do you get? (all should have up to date training in safeguarding, manual handling, first aid and hygiene) 

Questions for residents and their families

  • Do you enjoy living here?
  • What activities do you enjoy doing here?
  • How often do you get to go outside?
  • What do you usually do during the day and evening?

In summary

Beyond reviews and ratings, the best way to judge a good care home is to visit, ask lots of questions and get a sense for yourself. Does it feel homely? Does it feel safe? Is it friendly? Are people happy?

Remember to judge the home according to your parent’s needs and preferences, not yours. Consider what sort of person they are, what sort of environment and activities they would actually enjoy, and if you could imagine them living there. The home should meet their needs now and in the future.  

Common questions

  • What are the indicators in a home of quality care?

A key indicator of a quality care home is whether or not the staff and residents are happy and engaged. Quality care homes have attentive and compassionate staff, a welcoming and engaging atmosphere, personalised care plans, clean and well-maintained facilities, and a variety of stimulating activities tailored to residents’ interests and abilities.

  • What can I expect from a good care home?

From a good care home, you can expect your loved one to receive personalised attention from caring staff, assistance with daily tasks as needed, access to healthcare professionals, nutritious meals, a safe and comfortable living environment, and opportunities for social interaction and recreation. Families of residents can also expect a warm welcome and good communications from the care home staff and management.

  • Can you rely on CQC ratings?

While CQC ratings provide valuable insights into a care home’s performance, don’t rely on them for the full picture. Read the full CQC report, check reviews from other sources, and have conversations with care home staff about the report to get an informed picture of care home quality.

  • What is the difference between a good and an outstanding CQC rating?

Achieving an outstanding CQC rating signifies exceptional levels of care and service within a facility, and is very difficult to achieve in the current UK care environment. Essentially, a rating of outstanding means that a home exceeds expectations, while a good rating means that a home meets expectations.

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