A Healthwatch County Durham volunteer has received a national award in recognition of his work to make it easier for families to choose a care home.

Tony Bentley, from Seaham, was shocked by the poor quality of information available online when looking for a care home for his mother. Basic details about fees, CQC ratings, and even what services homes provided, were not always accessible, making an already stressful situation even harder. Tony’s experience left him wanting to make things easier for other families and he took his ideas to the Healthwatch County Durham team. This sparked a major project to improve care home websites that has just won a national Healthwatch England Award.

Tony received Healthwatch England’s #ItStartsWithYou award at a ceremony on Wednesday 3 October, beating off stiff competition from other local Healthwatch teams (there are 152 in total). The #ItStartsWithYou award was created to recognise an individual or group that has worked passionately to improve health and social care services for their community – which is certainly what Tony has been doing.

Tony has spearheaded the development of a “best-practice” website that care homes can refer to, to make sure their own sites have all the information the public could need. This has involved close work with local care home provider Kaydar and computer company Consett Computers. It has also challenged Tony personally to develop new IT expertise. The finished website is now live and Durham County Council have contacted every care home provider in the region to encourage them to follow its lead.

As a result of the project all care homes with a contract with Durham County Council will also now provide specified core information on durhamlocate.org.uk, the council’s database of local services. This means the public now has access to clearer information they can use to make more informed decisions with their loved ones.

Tony said he was delighted his project had been recognised nationally but that he isn’t ready to call it a day quite yet: “Life isn’t a spectator sport, you’ve got to get in and get on with it. There is still more we can do with the website to make it even more accessible and useful for people. All I want is there to be an improvement in the system and we’ve started the process but we can still do more.

Healthwatch County Durham was also highly commended in the “Helping people have their say” category for its work speaking to vulnerable women, including carers, homeless women, and women who have experienced domestic violence. Staff and volunteers visited projects around the region to ensure the views of these women were heard in its work on improving access to cancer screening programmes.