Shalim Ali: My work as a Quality Checker and Expert by Experience for Choice Support

Alongside his role as research team member of the Feeling at Home study, Shalim keeps himself busy as a DJ for Heart’n’Soul, a writer for Community Magazine, and a Quality Checker for Choice Support. Shalim has also previously worked as an Expert by Experience, contributing to Care Quality Commission’s inspections of housing and care services. Participants at our webinar last year had lots of questions for Shalim after co-presenting with Katy Brickley on Quality Checking in Social Care, so we thought it would be good to give people a chance to find out more about Shalim’s role. Here he speaks to Katy about his experiences….


Tell us a bit about what you do as an Expert by Experience. Can you describe your average day?


I’ll get a phone call from the admin team at Choice Support to ask if I’m available. Then they’ll give me a call to confirm the booking and send the information over. They also ring to book my tickets and tell me the location is and if it’s residential care homes or supported living, how many people are living there, and how many staff.


Then we’ll go into the questions in detail and then we’ll arrange a date and time to meet up with the PA who is supporting me on my check so we can go together to the home. We’ll have a discussion about who lives there and how long the inspection is going to be. We’ll also look at the last inspection to see if there are any changes. You have to look at that in case there are changes in management, care plans etc. We’re looking out for any indication of behaviour, contact with family members, how their homes are personalised, their rooms, the dining rooms, engaging with the other people who live there, looking at mess because that’s a big issue, repairs, looking at food and dietary requirements, weekly shopping.


We also oversee care aspects so looking at their files, asking the staff about updating files – which is a big thing – also looking at the training that staff are being offered, and also the staff ratio, and if it’s the same staff or if it’s bank staff. Lots of people that I’ve come across, say that their staff has changed. They’ve left or gone on long-term leave. The main issue with people who don’t like staff is how to make a complaint. A lot of people who are non-verbal, that’s people can’t express themselves, find it hard to make a complaint. That’s the challenging part. One of the questions we ask is about complaints. If you don’t like someone, if they’re verbally abusing you or mistreating you or controlling you, then you have the right to say something.


It’s a taboo question but I feel that a lot of people with learning disabilities or people who are non-verbal are still having to test the barriers. You have to make sure you’re not putting words in their mouths. And also, if you observe the manager, the way I look at it, they’ve got to have good communication skills, good listening skills, passionate about the job, motivated and keen to help the people to ensure they’re getting the right support.


How did you get into this work?

I moved to a Choice supported living home in 2016 and was living there for a couple of years. I now live in an independent living place. I didn’t know them as an organisation, but my housing manager introduced me to someone from Choice who told me about an Expert by Experience job. At the beginning I wasn’t planning to have this career, but I stuck with it, as I wanted to give something back and I’ve been doing it for 8 years now. I applied for it, did an interview, and got the job as I have a lot of experience working with people with disabilities and with mental health challenges. I was a CQC Expert by Experience, working alongside the inspectors. I learnt a lot from the inspectors, and I got support to do this. It was really interesting, I learnt how it was done. We had a set of questions that we went through. It was nice to get to know people. Now we don’t work alongside inspectors. I have a PA for every visit – they support us with travel, writing up the report. After the inspection, we go back do a brief summary, write up the report straight away while it’s fresh in our minds. This is important. It will take a couple of days to finish – it’s about 800 words on different topics. We have to reread it to check it and then we anonymise the reports so staff and residents can’t be identified.


What kind of places do you check?

Supported Living and Residential Care Homes. We have different experts checking different places… some experts check hospitals. I cover supported living because I have experience of living there. I’ve also worked checking elderly care homes. It was quite challenging emotionally which made it quite exhausting, especially as we were travelling quite far to the residence. I enjoyed going to see new places outside of London though.


How long does it take to do the quality check?

It takes a whole day! We tell the home managers what day we’ll visit, and they have to make sure staff are there to support residents. Sometimes I’ve been to places where staff are not around to support them. I find that really frustrating.


What is it like working with inspectors?

It’s really interesting. I pick up quite a lot with inspectors, they go through a brief summary before we go in. They talk me through it. And they’ll explain what they’re doing, the admin side of things. Then I look around the house – speaking to staff, clients, checking repairs are done, food etc. Inspectors wear quite formal clothes and I think it creates a barrier. It puts a lot of pressure on the staff. And also, a pressure on the residents… it’s not very relaxed. It’s so formal. They are suited and booted. It’s quite stressful for residents, I think. I don’t think it’s necessary to be so formal.


What do you find challenging about being a quality checker?

Sometimes I don’t feel very welcome when I come to the door. It can be very challenging. I want the staff and residents to engage with me. Staff sometimes think it’s their home and say I’m not allowed in certain areas. Sometimes the staff ignore me. I’m here to do the inspection, to do our jobs, trying to get the right service for these people.


What is the most rewarding thing about your job?

I’ve done some work in group homes and we’ve been really welcomed in some homes, asked to have tea and lunch. It makes me feel that the staff really do care about the people in those houses.


Shalim has recently published an article in his new column at Community Living magazine, You can keep up to date with his activities by following Shalim’s blog.