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Much of the debate following the budget has focused on
whether the government has struck the right balance between stimulating growth
and controlling the deficit, which is critical given the challenging times in
which we live.
Key changes which will have far reaching impact for all of
us are the reforms to the
financing of social care. We examine what the measures mean for individuals
and organisations, and the critical role for customer service.
The budget set out proposals for a cap on the amount an
individual will pay for social care. At £72,000, this is significantly higher
than the £35,000 recommended by the Dilnot Commission. The cap is combined with
a more generous ‘means test’ for residents in care homes, meaning that anyone
with assets of up to £118,000 will be entitled to some state funding towards
the cost of their care, even before they have reached the new £72,000 lifetime
cap. The cap still leaves many individuals with responsibility for care costs
of up to £72,000, but arguably it marks a decisive step towards making social
care more affordable, and giving people a degree of reassurance that all their
assets won’t be swallowed up by costly care bills.
As the ageing population continues to increase, the demand
for affordable social care looks set to grow. The
King’s Fund has reported that costs of the current system will rise
from £6.7 billion in 2011 to £12.1 billion in 2026, a bill that under the
proposed reforms will be met jointly by individuals, and the public purse.
This raises an important question, when both individuals
and the government will be required to commit significant resources to social
care, how will we ensure value for money and ongoing high standards of care,
especially as 80% of care providers are independent organisations?
Care providers will be charged with attracting customers, in
the first instance, and then offering consistent levels of care to gain further
backing from the government. They will therefore have to prove their abilities
in order to grow and develop. The Care Quality Commission and recent research
into the NHS has brought the importance of standards sharply into focus. The
Commission currently assesses 18,000 care homes for essential standards of
quality and safety. The essential standards set a foundation which can be
developed.
But how will individuals and their families know how to
assess the level of quality offered by care providers?
How will the government know that the taxpayer is receiving
value for money through provision of high quality care?
And how will care providers themselves know how the quality
of service they provide compares to competitors?

A transparent and nationally recognised benchmarking framework,
based on customer feedback, would provide individual customers with relevant
information about the performance of care providers, as well as giving care
organisations a means of reviewing their service, highlighting strengths and
areas for improvement, such as providing specialised
training and qualifications for staff. A minimum standard of care is a
basic requirement, but if the UK is to develop a social care market is both
affordable and promotes high quality, it is vital that accessible information
is available which helps customers make informed choices. Everyone deserves
dignity and a decent standard of care in old age. In a competitive market
environment a key ingredient to achieving this is customer-focused benchmarking
which measures quality of service and drives continuous improvement.

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