RA dayThe life chances of many of the 6.5 million people in the UK who care, unpaid, for a disabled, older or ill family member or friend, are being damaged by inadequate support from health services, according to new research launched this week for Carers Week 2016.

Carers are key partners in managing the care needs of the people they look after. They also form a hugely significant group of patients who need particular support to look after their own health. Yet, despite this, full time carers are twice as likely to be in bad health as non-carers.

The Carers Week research shows that health services are not doing enough to support carers:
  • Over half (55%) said their GP practice has not informed them about how they can get practical support as a carer, such as respite
  • Almost half (45%) said that their GP practice does not offer an annual health check for carers
  • 2 in 5 (42%) said they haven’t received any training or information to help keep them well 
  • A quarter (26%) said they struggle to get to their own health tests, check-ups and specialist appointments 
  • Almost a quarter (21%) said their hospital does not recognise their caring role
This inadequate support from local health services is having a significant impact on carers’ life chances. As a result of the barriers carers face to maintaining a healthy lifestyle:
  • More than half (51%) have let a health problem go untreated
  • Half (50%) have seen their mental health get worse
  • Over a third (35%) have physically injured themselves
  • Almost a third (31%) only get help when it’s an emergency
When carers are supported by their community, they are three times more likely to always be able to maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, only a minority of carers say they actually feel valued and recognised by their community (26%), indicating that there is still a long way to go.

Emily Holzhausen, who leads the Carers Week partnership, said:  “If carers aren’t supported to care well for themselves and their loved ones, they will be more likely to be unable to continue caring. If this happens, not only will the consequences for carers and their families be huge, but the NHS and public services will be forced to step in. With NHS and local authority budgets already stretched to their limits, this could put them under immeasurable pressure. When carers are supported by their communities, they are three times more likely to always be able to maintain a healthy lifestyle. We understand that greater investment in health and social care services from all Governments across the UK is vital, but for Carers Week, we are urging health and care services and professionals to look how they can improve the way they support carers today.”

Simple actions that health and care services can take to improve the way they support carers, include:
  • Flexible appointment times to fit around someone’s caring role, priority appointment slots for carers, or home visits for carers
  • Offer annual health checks for carers
  • Give carers information and advice about how to look after their own health, as well as signposting carers to local carers’ organisations and support services
  • Involve carers in conversations about the treatment of the person they look after
The seven charities driving Carers Week are keen to highlight that whilst Carer Friendly Communities can make a significant difference to the life chances of the UK’s carers, they can only go so far without Governments across the UK address the chronic underfunding of social care support.

Carers Week is made possible by Carers UK joining forces with Age UK, Carers Trust, Independent Age, Macmillan Cancer Support, Motor Neurone Disease Association and MS Society.