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As NHS England publishes a new toolkit about how to involve carers of people in secure mental health services Neil Churchill, Director for Participation and Experience, reflects on the challenges faced by carers and the important part they play in the NHS.
There are five and a half million carers in England, with many of us expected to take on caring responsibility at some point in our lives and yet we don’t always appreciate the contribution family carers make or the impact they have on their loved ones’ health and wellbeing. Carers can offer a unique perspective on health services and they have a wealth of experience and knowledge about the person they care for. In light of this, the NHS Five Year Forward View committed to find new ways to support and empower carers, including those who are most vulnerable.
We have worked hard to improve the support all carers receive from the NHS, including earlier identification of individuals. Yet carers of people in secure mental health services have often been overlooked. They face a wide-range of issues that affect both the person they care for and themselves. Many have themselves dealt with trauma and distress. They may have been the victim of a loved one’s behaviour, experienced the criminal justice system and perhaps even been the subject of stories in the press – all while dealing with the impact of a mental health crisis.
When the person they care for is in secure services, many carers have reported not feeling valued or listened to by healthcare professionals, despite the knowledge they hold about the person being treated. Some carers have told us that they have not been involved in the care of the person in secure services and that they had to fight for the right services and information.
This feedback is the reason we worked with carers to develop this toolkit for commissioners, staff, providers and carers themselves.
We know that carers play a key role in helping people to get better; they know so much about the person being cared for, and what can help them recover.
They can help us to see the things we don’t see; see things that are really important, and help us to start from the right place. More effective care and recovery not only benefits patients and their carers, it also delivers more efficient uses of resources, helping to ease pressures on the health services.
We worked with carers to understand more about the experience and knowledge they can bring to improve services and care. We also looked at examples of where practice is changing and carers are being involved in service design and delivery. Partners, including the University of Central Lancashire and The Royal College of Psychiatrists, helped to develop the toolkit and ensure that it empowers carers and helps to change practice in secure mental health services.
NHS England’s Commitment to Carers applies equally to carers of people in secure mental health service as to other carers. The healthcare system needs to involve all carers in services; after all they will be the ones who continue to offer vital support and encouragement to patients, helping to bring people back into better health and back into their communities.