NHS England has today published a healthy caring guide aimed at providing practical advice and information to carers and, in particular, older carers about staying healthy and the support that is available to them. Carers UK’s Director of Policy and Public Affairs explains why it is so important:
Caring for someone is part and parcel of life and particularly part of our ageing society – most of us at some stage of our lives will care for someone who has a chronic illness or disability.
The majority of people are not prepared for caring or the challenges that it brings. And while caring can be very rewarding, we also see some of the more negative consequences of caring in terms of poorer health and well-being, lower reported quality of life, poorer finances, isolation and the loss of employment.
In health terms, the figures are clear. If you are caring more than 50 hours of care per week, you are twice as likely to suffer ill-health.
The national GP patient survey data from 2014 showed people with caring responsibilities having higher levels of arthritis, health disease, higher blood pressure and other conditions. Yet some of these are preventable by making sure that carers get the right information and support at the right time.
Research carried out by Carers UK and others over the years shows that people often don’t know where to turn for help when they are caring, or what help is available. Carers often put their own health last, either because they don’t have time or they don’t get the right support. At times, all that some carers need is a little bit of information at the right time, pointing in the right direction of where help is available.
The Healthy Caring Guide published today has been developed jointly between NHS England, Public Health England, Age UK, Carers Trust and Carers UK and is aimed at the 1.2 million unpaid older carers in England.
The Guide has been compiled by people who understand caring, has been reviewed by carers, and we hope that by using it, older carers can find the help they need to manage the challenges of caring better. While it cannot do everything, the Guide might be the bit of help or the start of a journey to support that some carers need.
Strategically, carers matter. The Five Year Forward View sets out clear goals and aspirations recognising that tackling the health challenges of an ageing population cannot be achieved without the support of carers and supporting carers better.
Importantly, the new CCG Improvement and Assurance Framework for 2016-17 includes an indicator on the quality of life for carers – seeking better health for them and the people they look after – as this document says: “Bending the demand curve”.
Measures like the Healthy Caring Guide can make an important practical and tangible contribution to improving the lives of older people. The key is getting it into the hands of people who can most use it – professionals working with families and patients and carers themselves.
The NHS interacts with more people who are caring, unpaid, for relatives and close friends than any other organisation throughout England.
Everyone throughout the NHS has a potential role to play in recognising the important role that family and close friends play in caring for and supporting disabled and chronically ill people. Whether it’s a paper copy that older carers get of the Healthy Caring Guide, whether it’s emailed, tweeted, blogged or on Instagram, information is often the first step to getting better support and we need to improve older carers’ health and well-being – making life better for carers.