The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) started an investigation into how the care home market is functioning in January this year. It has recently published its 55 page interim report, which sets out what it has uncovered so far, as well as prompting a side investigation into service users’ consumer rights.

The headline issues that the CMA have identified include a lack of information about how to choose which care home is most appropriate and what funding options are available. It is also greatly concerned about how complaints procedures work and the terms and conditions that are imposed on service users. Intriguingly, the report also says that they intend to look at how to make the sector more attractive to investment, because current levels of investment will be insufficient to meet expected future demand.

When it comes to the issues surrounding complaints, the issues raised are familiar: both service users and their families are reluctant to complain because they fear that their care may worsen as a result.  Additionally, complaints procedures have been cited to be long–winded or complex, seeming to discourage complaints. However, positive comments were made about “feedback” and where management actively engaged with both service users and relatives. The CMA have said that they may recommend a specific type of complaint procedure for care homes and advocacy services. We do have to bear in mind that all providers currently have an obligation to maintain a complaints procedure and failure to do so would lead to censure by the Care Quality Commission. 

It seems that there is perhaps an opportunity to get ahead of where the regulators appear to be going by overhauling the complaints procedure now. Feedback sessions in addition to a formal complaints process might be a useful engagement exercise. Clarity and transparency in who service users or relatives can give negative feedback to i.e. individual staff, supervisors, managers, senior management or owners, might encourage them to do so. 

Any improvements in this direction can only support that the service is operating with the best interests of the service users at its heart, as well as demonstrating that it is well-led. No doubt this report will go into greater detail over the coming months, but it may lead to recommendations that have a significant impact on the sector.

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