Below HQIP has addressed some common questions around social care audit, which we will add to and amend on an ongoing basis. If you have any questions you'd like addressed or other content you'd like us to consider, please contact us.
‘Care audit is a quality improvement cycle that involves review of the effectiveness of social care and social work practice against agreed and proven standards for high quality, and taking action to bring practice in line with these standards so as to improve the quality of care, experience and outcomes for people who use services and carers.'
Care audit is all about taking a personalised approach to care: how people who use services, their carers and the wider community can work in partnership with care professionals to enhance the quality of services provided.
People who use services and their relatives must be at the centre of decisions about care. Their voices and those of their advocates must be heard, and their choices and priorities known and respected.
It is crucial that people who use, or are about to begin using, a care service have access to good information that will help them decide which service to use.
The perspective of those who use services is fundamental to understanding how well a service is doing and how it can be improved. Involvement is key throughout the care audit process, from identifying topics, defining standards for high quality and contributing to data collection, to suggesting improvements and agreeing action plans.
Even those who are already using a service are often unclear about what they should expect or the quality of the service they are receiving. Care audit means more transparency, which can help to empower people who are already using services.
In a sector where increasingly people are being encouraged to ‘commission' their own care (e.g. through the use of personal budgets) providers need to understand the quality of their services so they can continuously adapt them to reflect the needs and preferences of those people who are in receipt of care.
A huge percentage of social care services, whether directly commissioned by local authorities or through personal budgets, are publicly funded. Both commissioners and providers need to demonstrate that public funding is spent appropriately on good quality services.
Care audit can provide commissioners with better information at provider level, over and above that supplied for compliance with statutory requirements and the CQC's Essential Standards for Quality and Safety.
Clinical audit is an approach that is ‘part of the furniture' in healthcare, used for many years in the NHS as a means to drive up quality. In turn, care audit takes place in social work and social care settings, and as a result, is intended to improve the quality of social care services.
Although the principles of a care audit cycle - review and action - are very similar to a clinical audit cycle, the method has been adapted and enriched in consultation with the sector to ensure it is fit for purpose. Improving outcomes in social care presents a different challenge as this type of review often starts from a different point.
Social care work seeks to start with the person as the determinant of how their needs are assessed, rather than in healthcare where the starting point is the clinical perspective of what their problems might be. Healthcare quality improvement has tended to focus on procedures, interventions and conditions without looking at the whole person. Care audit can place a greater focus on a person's whole journey rather than looking at specific interventions for specific parts of their body!
Healthcare quality improvement can usefully learn to focus on patient experience and the sense of the person as a whole being. In turn, social care could benefit from the tradition of systematic quality improvement, with all the gains it could bring in suitably adapted form, to social care settings.
Providing high quality, integrated services is a shared goal across health, community and social care services. Through use of a systematic approach, audit can provide a consistent means for services to work together to provide the highest quality of care for recipients, especially where care services interface and overlap.
Several of the national audits that HQIP supports, including Falls and Bone Health in Older People and Continence Care, collect information from social care settings, and illustrate some of the challenges of supporting people and providing joined up care, across multiple care environments.
However, challenges remain, including whether it is valuable to develop measures that reach across the whole care service journey, and if so how this could be approached.
Care audit is about improving care, not monitoring performance and most audit has nothing to do with any external review process; it's an internal self-review process.
Care audit differs from performance monitoring or research because it is focused on making improvements to the service. These can be quite small changes to things you do every day that make a difference to the people using the service.
Care audit is not about finding faults or blaming individuals, it is about sharing responsibility for improving the service. Such a discussion preferably requires an atmosphere of trust to encourage an honest, open and constructive dialogue.
Care audit helps to showcase and promote excellent practice where it exists and look at actions for improvement where care can be bettered.
Where practice meets and exceeds compliance with CQC's Essential Standards of Quality and Safety, care audit is a means to demonstrate this.
Care audit is not care audit if it is an exercise in pointless box-ticking.
Data rarely speak for themselves. This is why the next steps in the audit cycle - taking action and making adjustments - are of fundamental value: where audit is properly conducted it is about change. The whole cycle has to happen, not just the review of existing practice, but also the next steps taken by a professional or team to ‘close the loop' and take action to improve things next time around.
Care audit can be undertaken by existing staff, so organisations do not need to invest in external consultancy. However, staff time will need to be released to undertake the work, and staff, particularly those leading the work, are likely to need some training and support when they first start undertaking care audits.
Many changes that improve services can be made at little or no cost. However, the care audit may well identify some training needs or other developments to support the service which have a cost attached. The investment in these is likely to be offset by the improvement in the service leading to better outcomes and potentially leading to cost savings or improved business performance elsewhere.
Outcome (noun): A final product or end result; consequence; issue
Outcome measurement is a way of measuring the change in a person's current or future status that can be attributed to preceding social care intervention. Outcome measurement can be used for clinical care, social care, audit and research purposes.
Outcomes are at different levels - national, organisational, local community, individual user. Whilst there is a general desire to move away from a narrow focus on the outcomes of specific services and towards user-focus, there are associated challenges. Our forthcoming resources address these challenges in more detail.