Carers week – Overshadowed by hung parliaments and Brexit?

Emma Ream, Director of Health Sciences Research

Yesterday saw the start of Carers Week 2017. “What is Carers Week?’ you may ask.   This annual event often passes without the fanfare associated with other national awareness campaigns such as, for example, Breast Cancer Awareness month or World AIDS day. For many people, the week simply does not hit their radars unless they are personally affected.

Carers Week seeks to raise awareness amongst communities – and to celebrate – the often taken-for-granted contribution made by the 6.5 million or so unpaid family members and friends who provide care and support for people living at home with illness or disability. Six and a half million may be a conservative estimate. Numbers of people providing care- and the pressures they are facing – are increasing as society ages and numbers of people living at home with illness and disability grows. Further, the cared-for’s needs for help and support become greater with the co-morbidity that so often accompanies ageing.

Lives for many carers can be complex and challenging; not least if they provide care and support whilst striving to continue as normal with their daily lives. For some this will include continuing, out of desire and/or necessity, with paid employment. Carolyn Jackson wrote a very moving piece on the complexity of carers’ lives and how the isolation and challenges they face are often overlooked by busy friends, relatives, colleagues and society. You can read it here.

Carers are vital; it is evident that the NHS could not cope without their input. Yet, they get limited – and in real terms falling – financial assistance and little – if any – training or support in how to go about being a carer. It is almost assumed that everyone has the capacity and innate ability to provide the physical, practical and emotional support needed by people living with illness and disability.

Prior to last week’s General Election, Carers UK published a mandate; a mandate calling on all political parties to commit to:

  • Ensuring that carers and their families do not suffer financial hardship as a result of caring
  • Ensuring that there is sufficient funding so that older and disabled people get affordable care when they need it
  • Ensuring carers are able to juggle work and care, returning to work if they wish
  • Creating a more ‘Carer Friendly’ NHS
  • Providing easily available information and advice to the public so everyone is better prepared for caring and can get support early to look after their own health and wellbeing.

Our work in the School of Health Sciences at the University of Surrey seeks to develop innovations in care that will contribute to the delivery of a more ‘Carer Friendly’ NHS as advocated by Carers UK. One programme of work we are collaborating on is developing and evaluating use of wearables, sensors and remote monitoring technology within homes to support care and carers of people with dementia. The project known as ‘Technology Integrated Health Management (THIM) has been funded by NHS England and Innovate UK and been the subject of previous blogs on this site. The vision is that the technology will (amongst providing other benefits) help to reduce pressure on carers by giving them some peace of mind when they are not with the person they are caring for; they know that their friend/relative’s wellbeing is being monitored and managed in their absence.  You can read more you can read more about THIM here.

A second strand of work is developing and testing an education and support package specifically for carers of people with cancer undergoing chemotherapy. This group of carers report feeling isolated, burdened, anxious and uncertain of what to do should their relative/friend become unwell on treatment. Further, they feel that their contribution to care is not valued. Our work is seeking to address these issues by providing these carers with information and support specific to their needs prior to their relative/friend starting chemotherapy.

Not feeling valued is a sentiment echoed by carers generally.  Three out of four carers report not feeling valued. It is imperative that we take steps to address this alongside addressing carers’ financial, practical and emotional needs. Much can be done to enhance carers’ wellbeing.  Is it too much to ask our Government and Society to commit to improving the lives of our nation’s carers? I think not. However, it is easy for the plight of carers to become lost amongst quarrels over hung parliaments and Brexit. For this reason I believe it is more important than ever to promote Carers Week…