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What to look for when choosing a care home

It can be distressing when it comes to that time a loved one cannot stay safely at home any longer. So we’ve put together a guide on how to shortlist suitable care homes to make sure your close relative or friend’s requirements are met.

As a leading Health and Social Care Recruitment Agency working with and supplying staff into a variety of care settings, we understand how challenging it can be going through the process of selecting a suitable care home for a loved one.

As if the realisation that a family member or friend must go into care isn’t overwhelming enough, then comes the deluge of information and decision-making needed to make the move to a care home. Don’t panic – we’re here to light the way and help guide your thoughts towards making the best decision that suits your loved one’s needs.

If you are looking for a care home for yourself, it’s important to consider what you want and need when you move to a care home. Try to include others – family, friends and/or carers – to help manage your thoughts.


BT was absolutely right when they coined this slogan and this is extremely pertinent to the selection of a care home. Before you rummage through the draws for a notepad and pen to make your shortlist, sit down with the person you’re caring for in a relaxed environment and, if they can, really talk about what’s important to them.

Such a discussion might focus on facilities, any special care required, location and environment. Find out what they see as desirable and essential and don’t be afraid to include other close family members in these discussions. No doubt there will be more questions that crop up once you embark on your search for the right care home and you can use these conversations as a start point.


Once you’ve discovered what you are looking for in terms of essential and desirable factors, now’s the time to start looking at care homes in your chosen area.

There are numerous care home directories, but try to use an independent source such as Which?™ that lists registered care homes. This facility allows you to filter for nursing or residential homes and those that provide specialist care e.g., for physical disabilities or dementia. It also highlights inspection ratings with recent reports from care regulators.

Browse care home websites, including reviews, so that you get a feel for the homes you might shortlist. Think about whether the home can offer palliative care if your loved one requires end of life care – often the main aim is to make people as comfortable and happy as possible for the short time they may have left.


Be mindful not to have tunnel vision by focusing solely on web-based research. Consult friends and family to see if they know anyone already in a care home or have experience with them. Word of mouth and recommendations from contented residents are powerful deciding factors.


Four watchdogs have the responsibility of inspecting care providers in the UK. Their reports are publicly available and offer a valuable understanding of how care homes are performing and managed along with the level of care they provide.

Therefore, we advise investing time in reading them.

Whilst care providers in Wales and Northern Ireland are not rated by their respective regulators, they are in Scotland and England.

When reading reports, find out if a care provider’s ‘points raised’ by inspectors have been dealt with or do they reappear in other reports. Also, staff turnover can signpost whether a care home is professionally managed, happy and settled – a high turnover can signify that all is not well. Equally, inspections that occur regularly can highlight a poorly managed establishment.


When you’ve done your desk-based research and consulted others, now is the time to make the first contact with your shortlisted care homes.

As mentioned, it’s good to talk, so start with a phone call to the home manager to discuss how they can meet your requirements.  Don’t ignore the elephant in the room and ask them to be upfront and honest about fees, as some might skirt around the issue.  They will probably ask if the potential resident is local authority or self-funded or a combination of the two. Even if you don’t know, just explain your situation.

Find out about capacity and availability. Knowing room availability and prices will assist you with crossing off those that aren’t suitable based on cost or lack of places. Most care homes have brochures that detail costs and facilities, so ensure you get a copy and when you arrange a visit check who you’re meeting with – ideally this would be the home manager.


Visiting a care home is a critical fact-finding mission, so ensure you get as much information as possible. You will learn a great deal about a care home and how it is run by how you are welcomed, shown around and generally treated as a visitor. Do your best to pay attention to these aspects.

Try to visit a care home with the person you’re caring for or, if this is not possible, with a close friend or family member. It will help you gain an alternative view which will form an important part of your assessment. If your loved one is not able to visit, ask a care home representative to visit them to assess their needs.

Consider what’s important on your list, from practicalities such as social activities and specialist care to the care home’s contract – this is the opportunity to ask everything.


It’s incredibly important to make sure that when exploring care homes you also get a free needs assessment for the person you’re caring for from their local council’s social care department. This will prove crucial if you think they will need financial support from the local authority – funding is only provided if deemed required through an assessment.

It’s still a worthwhile exercise, even if you think they’ll wind up paying for their care, as it offers a professional assessment of the type of support and care needed. This will help in your selection of a suitable care home and may also highlight further care options that you haven’t thought about.


WHICH?™ Directory of care homes and home care agencies – Which?

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