My hopes for the NHS England Commitment to Carers

NHS England recently published an End of Year Progress Summary reviewing progress made on 37 commitments made to carers in May 2014. The Commitments to Carers were based on what carers said was important to them. A good start has been made with 32 commitments completed and others continuing to be monitored. But more work needs to be done on the Five Year Forward View commitment to finding new ways to support carers. In the fourth of a series of blogs, Richard Cross talks about the challenges carers face and his hopes for the NHS England Commitments to Carers.

I became a full-time carer for my wife Sheila in April 1991 over 24 years ago and spent three years previous to that caring for her while in work. For 12 years I did this unsupported and that became the most lonely and desperate time of my life.

Among the hardships we encountered, there were none worse than the indifference with which I – as a carer – was treated by those providing medical support. Personally I don’t know how we coped but I knew that she needed me. I wanted her to be at home where she was meant to be and where we each wanted her to be. The strength of our love for each other kept us strong – without that we wouldn’t have made it. The greatest regret, looking back, is that there isn’t a single person or organisation who I can thank for their help during that time.

In 2003 I was identified as a carer by a local carers support group. It turned a light on for me and helped me to address things differently. It meant I had an interested third party to refer to, one which could help signpost me to where I needed to be at any given time.

What does it mean to me being a carer?  Strange as it may seem, I actually enjoy it, simply because it allows me the opportunity to give the person I love best, the very best of care and the personal attention she needs and deserves.

At home with me my wife feels safe, needed and important and that she is an individual, not a number.  What makes caring at home difficult is the lack of support and recognition we carers receive.

Research tells us that as carers our lives become much more stressful and the likelihood of us becoming ill ourselves is increased several times over. It also tells us we save the taxpayer £119 billion pounds a year by doing this.

NHS England’s commitment to carers is a step in the right direction. It highlights the commitments they have made to improve the quality of carers’ lives. It also reflects what carers have said is important to them. 37 commitments have been developed to support carers to help them provide better care and to stay well themselves.

My hopes for the commitment to carers is that it will help raise our profile, value our expertise and recognise the very valuable job we undertake. People who care for someone have a wealth of knowledge and experience and this should be tapped in to. We are experts in our own right and want to be respected for this by health care professionals; the truth is we often know the person we care for better than anyone.

The commitment to carers, launched in May 2014, has made a good start but I am pleased NHS England recognises this to be the start of our journey together and that they will keep listening to carers and refine those commitments so that they continue to reflect what is important to carers and those who they care for.

Becoming a carer can happen to anyone, often when you least expect it. Figures show that 60% of people will become carers at some point in their lives. There are nearly 7 million of us nationwide and every day 6,000 new people become carers. As more people are living longer, often with more than one long-term condition, the numbers of carers is going to increase.

The commitment to carers addresses the challenges and problems carers face and sets up a framework to improve the quality of the lives of carers and the people they care for. We need everyone to get behind the commitment to carers that NHS England has made so we can continue to care, with a life of more than just coping!

Richard Cross is 71 years old and spent his working life as an auditor. His wife Sheila has multiple Long-Term Conditions, including COPD, spinal and related arthritic conditions, severe abdominal pains and mental health issues.

On behalf of carers nationwide, he has met David Cameron at 10 Downing Street, had several visits to Westminster to meet other M.P’s, a carers meeting at The Foreign Office (for their staff) and many local meetings with influential representatives of both government departments and regulatory bodies.