Did you know that the week beginning 10th June is National Carers Week? Its purpose is highlighting the work done by the nearly five-and-a-half million unpaid carers in the UK, appreciating what they give to families and communities, and encouraging people who may not think of themselves as carers to recognise their role and to use the support that’s available.
“I care for my mother because she’s family – it’s natural.” “I look after Jim because he’s a neighbour – why wouldn’t I?” Such human compassion sometimes stops people realising that, more than ‘someone who helps’, they’re carers, who deserve their own share of assistance. After all, unpaid carers contribute about £60 billion a year of free services, according to the Office of National Statistics.
Every unpaid carer can, and should, make sure their GP Practice knows they’re a carer and has officially registered that fact. With all its staff aware of your caring role, the Practice should be as concerned for your own welfare as for that of the person you care for. You should be offered appointments most convenient for you and that person, be involved in their care planning, be notified of useful information and support, and be entitled to a free annual health check.
Most GP Practices have a specified member of staff as the key contact with carers, whether paid or unpaid. Often this person will arrange informal social events for local carers: these get-togethers can offer mutual support when caring may become a bit isolating, as well as sharing practical advice on the range of financial, emotional and practical demands on carers.
And that’s important. Research for Carers Week, carried out by Carers UK and eight national charities, concludes that 72% of carers in England experience mental ill health, and 61% physical ill health, as a result of caring. It’s worse for young carers.
Recognising how important carers are, NHS England this month starts a ‘Carer-friendly GP practices’ initiative, encouraging GPs to be as effective as possible in supporting carers. GPs will be able to use evidence of how they do this when inspected by the Care Quality Commission. (It would, of course, be better if NHS England provided GPs with appropriate funding as well as encouragement … And better still if professional caring services weren’t nationally so scandalously under-resourced.)
Many charities support carers. Carers UK (www.carersuk.org) and the Carers Trust (www.carers.org), for example, have information about financial help, legal issues, ways of keeping healthy as a carer, or equipment in the home and for mobility. Locally, Dorset Council (www.dorsetcouncil.gov.uk/carers) and Age UK in Dorchester (01305 269444) have similar information, while the Leonardo Trust (www.leonardotrust.org) can make grants to individual carers for a surprisingly wide range of help, from respite breaks and short holidays, to home improvements, to counselling.
Unpaid carers in Dorset can use the Carers Card: showing this to any business signed up to the scheme will obtain a discount, concession or preferential service. To apply, phone the Dorset Adult Access Team on 01305 221016. The Lyme area needs more businesses to join in – a quick and easy free process either online (www.mycarerscard.co.uk/for-business) or by calling Julie on 01202 764778. What better time to do this, showing that your business appreciates carers, than during Carers Week?
So if you’re a carer but not yet registered as such with your GP, or not sure whether you are, why not take that first step by contacting the receptionist? And LymeForward is happy to help create a stronger sense of solidarity among local carers, so why not get in touch with us, too? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll respond.
Chris Boothroyd, Chair, LymeForward Health and Wellbeing Group