BACKGROUND The reduction of beds in long-stay hospitals has led to concerns over the quality of care offered to the remaining residents as well as that provided in the community. This study seeks to compare the quality of care and quality of life (reported satisfaction) from residents in both types of setting.
METHOD A cross-sectional comparison was made of community residential homes and hospital wards drawn randomly from lists provided by local authorities in the outer London area. Samples were drawn from all the main provider types (local authority, housing association, private and joint NHS/voluntary sector). Measures were taken of the quality of the physical environment, staff and resident characteristics, external management arrangements and internal management regimes, resident satisfaction and staff stress. Direct observations were also made of the amount and quality of staff-resident interactions.
RESULTS In general, the most disabled residents were found to be still living in hospital in the Worst conditions and receiving the poorest quality of care. Although there were some problems with missing data, hospital residents also seemed most dissatisfied with their living situation. There were few differences between community providers regarding either the quality of care provided or the levels of reported satisfaction. Quality of care in the community homes seemed to be much more determined by the personality and orientation of project leaders.
CONCLUSIONS Purchasers and providers still need to give attention to the problems of selectively discharging the most able residents to the community, leaving the most disabled being looked after in progressively deteriorating conditions. All residential providers need to review their internal management practices and try to ensure that residents are offered, as far as possible, the opportunity to make basic choices about where and how they will live. Staff training and quality assurance practices need to be reviewed in order to improve the direct quality of care offered to the most disabled individuals.