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Introducing the NHS Carers Strategy

By Michelle Rebello, Involvement and Engagement Coordinator

I was fortunate to be invited to attend the South region NHS conference “An Integrated Approach to Carers Health & Wellbeing” recently and I was supported by Dimensions to do so.

As a parent of three autistic children and founder of an autism support group I work closely with local organisations and carers in Hampshire to recognise the vital work of carers.

My advice is always that ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ and this is why it is so necessary to support our carers. I was extremely pleased to see that the NHS are now addressing this.

The conference was attended by heads of the Department of Health, CCGs, Local Authorities and carer organisations such as Carers UK.

There was a lot of enthusiasm in the room and a lot of real concern – especially after hearing very moving talks from carers.

It is great that the NHS has a dedicated, if small, team who just look after carer wellbeing. They have estimated that if all carers stopped the immediate cost to replace their ‘services’ would be 132 billion pounds!With an aging carer group this is becoming an ever growing and important issue.

Identifying carers (for example registering carers at GP practices and other frontline services) is another key issue. Many carers are relatives who do not identify that they are doing more than expected, especially parent carers. After all, caring for your child comes with the territory of being a parent.

I was also pleased to hear that the NHS are placing emphasis on carers being an equal part of a triangle of care between patient, consultant and carer – and their advocacy must hold equal weight.

The NHS Strategy for Carers outlines seven principles and has a number of useful examples of good practice.

The main principles are:

1.       Principle 1 – We will support the identification, recognition and registration of Carers in Primary care

2.       Principle 2 – Carers will have their support needs assessed and will receive an integrated package of support to maintain and/or improve their physical and mental health

3.       Principle 3 – Carers will be empowered to make choices about their caring role and access appropriate services and support for them and the person they look after

4.       Principle 4 – The staff of partners to this agreement will be aware of the needs of Carers and of their value to our communities

5.       Principle 5 – Carers will be supported by information sharing between health, social care, Carers Support organisations and other partners to this agreement

6.       Principle 6 – Carers will be respected and listened to as expert care partners, and will be actively involved in care planning, shared decision-making and reviewing services

7.       Principle 7 – The support needs of Carers who are vulnerable or at key transition points are identified early

I welcome these seven principles but I’m concerned that they are guidelines rather than legislation. In this time of significant budget pressure, where departments are reducing their focus to provide only statutory duties, they will have little impact without a strong response from carer groups.

Though good work has been done, this is only the beginning and we must all carry on campaigning if we are to see any real change for carers and their rights.

View the full conference presentations here.