Supporting carers is at the heart of NHS England

Over the past year, I have been visiting projects which support carers’ health and wellbeing, some run by the NHS, others by voluntary organisations.

This comes after I shadowed a carer for Carer’s Week last year. Following on from that experience I reflected on what I had learned in a blog. Our NHS Commitments to Carers are intended to improve the early identification of carers and the support we can give in the health service.

From my experiences last year I knew that carers can put off dealing with their own health needs. So I spent a day with the Carers Health Team run by Sussex Community NHS Trust. In this service, nurses visit carers in their own homes to help them with treatment or advice they might otherwise not receive, putting their own health at risk.

I also knew from last year that carers need to be closely involved in planning for loved ones returning from periods in hospital. I spent a day with Hospital Support Workers employed by Carers Support West Sussex. I saw families being helped to influence discharge arrangements, so that both patient and carer would be safe and supported once they got back home. The pressures of full-time caring were impressed on me by many people I met.

It was also good to visit a Dementia Club run by Age UK which gave carers a much-needed break.

These are all services in my part of the country but I know that similar services are being run across England. All Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), which plan NHS services for their local populations, have considered the needs of carers, whether they are young or old, working or at home around the clock.

These plans should take into account the principles we developed with carers’ organisations which include early identification, signposting of support, making every contact count and providing the right support at the right time and in the right place.

Some imaginative new approaches have been taken: Herts Valley CCG has approved funding for each GP practice to enhance their support for carers. Most GP practices in West Hertfordshire have a nominated member of staff to take on the role of a Carers’ Champion and the CCG expects all practices to do so over time. This ensures that carers have a point of contact within every practice, who will signpost them to other agencies for information and help, and gives them access healthcare support from the practice – for example healthcare checks and flexible appointments.

There is much more to do to ensure that the NHS plays an active part in identifying and supporting carers. But the voices of carers are being heard and progress is being made.

Supporting carers is at the heart of our Five Year Forward View for the NHS and we remain determined and optimistic that we can improve the experiences carers have of health services.

  • Carers’ Week 2015 runs from 8 to 14 June. To find out more about what the local NHS is doing to support it visit the Carers’ Week website.
Dr Neil Churchill

Neil is Director for People and Communities at NHS England, having joined the NHS after a 25-year career in the voluntary sector. His work includes understanding people’s experiences of the NHS, involving people and communities in decision-making and leading change to improve the quality and equality of care. He has a particular focus on strengthening partnerships with unpaid carers, volunteers and the voluntary sector.

Neil has previously been a non-executive director for the NHS in the South of England, is a member of the Strategy Board for the Beryl Institute and Chair of Care for the Carers in East Sussex. He is himself an unpaid carer. Neil tweets as @neilgchurchill

One comment

  1. wsx carer says:

    I hope that this carefully written blog entry does not give the impression that West Sussex carers’ live in some kind of Shangri-La because this far from my experience.

    I have been a full-time dementia carer for a family member here since 2008 and have for many years been registered as a carer with both my GP surgery and the local authority. The person I care for has in the previous twelve months been admitted acutely to hospital seven times.

    But until now I did not know of the existence of either the Carers Health Team or Hospital Support Workers services. I doubt the excellent GP for my cared for does either.

    There have been some improvements since 2008 but I am fed up reading self-congratulatory, “jam tomorrow” PR when the reality is very different for most carers.