We must recognise the vital contribution of carers

NHS England must continue to raise the profile of England’s carers and the vital role they play.

That is the view of Dr Martin McShane, NHS England’s Director for Long Term Conditions, who has written in a blog: “England’s five and a half million carers make a critical and underappreciated contribution not only to loved ones, neighbours and friends, but to the very sustainability of the NHS in England.”

He points to the large efforts being made to support carers but adds: “Is that enough? Of course not. It will take time and ownership by everyone who delivers and supports individuals and carers. What we can try to do at the centre is make it easy for people to say ‘We have done this because of the system, not despite the system’”.

Dr McShane’s remarks come during Carers’ Week which runs as an annual awareness campaign and recognises the crucial work they do.

Carers can struggle for recognition and support from health professionals. And involving carers in decision-making and recognising their role as expert partners in care serves to benefit patients, carers and the NHS alike.

As well as raising awareness of the vital role of caring, Carers’ Week highlights the challenges carers face and recognises the contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK.

Neil Churchill, NHS England’s Director for Improving Patient Experience, said: “In Carers’ Week last year I was invited to shadow a number of carers and understand the pressures they face in day to day life.

“One year on, I am pleased that we are commissioning services to make caring easier. But we have more to do to identify carers earlier and target support more effectively to stop them reaching crisis point.

“Evidence is mounting that by supporting carers, we can not only improve outcomes but also reduce emergency admissions and delay or even prevent the need for institutional care. The new models of care provide us with a brilliant opportunity to extend our ambitions for carers and demonstrate how, by targeting early intervention to those carers who need it, we can benefit patients, carers, the NHS and social care.”

NHS England works closely with organisations such as the Standing Commission on Carers, the Carers Trust, Carers UK and the Children’s Society to respond to and improve the experience of carers in relation to health services. In May 2014, NHS England published its Commitment to Carers, as well as a toolkit to support commissioners with commissioning carer support services.

This year, NHS England is focusing on building Carer Friendly Communities, which support carers to look after their loved ones well, while recognising that they are individuals with needs of their own.