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Think data is dull? Get excited by what it’s revealing about carers

The GP Patient Survey is published today. Laura Bennett, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Carers Trust, explains why this large national survey is important for evidencing the issues for unpaid carers and building a case for change.

At Carers Trust, we’ve long been fans of the GP Patient Survey data. While this might not immediately seem like something a national charity would get excited about, it helps us to do something very important: use that evidence to help us build the case about why unpaid carers’ health requires targeted support and intervention.

Carers are people who care, unpaid, for a friend or family member who – due to illness, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction – cannot cope without their support. Carers can be any age: in fact, our network of local carer-focused charities work with carers as young as three, and no upper age limit. Find your nearest one at carers.org.

We know from what we hear from young carers – those under 18 – that many of them experience an adverse effect on their mental and physical health because of their caring. As part of our membership of the NHS England Commitment to Carers Oversight Group, and their championing of the GP Patient Survey as a source of data, we started to explore this in more depth.

Analysis of the 2018 survey for data on young carers meant that we were able to further confidently claim that being a young carer was a risk factor for children and young people’s mental health. The survey found that one in five carers aged 16-17 reported a long-term mental health condition compared to one in 15 non-carers of the same age (20% and 7% respectively). Carers aged 18 to 24 were also more likely to report a long-term mental health condition than non-carers (21% for carers, 13% for non-carers).

Building on this, we’ve been able to secure important commitments and acknowledgements for young carers. Examples include:  “Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision: a Green Paper”; the NHS Long Term Plan; and the Carers Action Plan. We are also working with government and the NHS to implement these important initiatives.  As a practice leader in the field, we’re also delivering projects which highlight interventions for young carers, as well as helping them get their voices heard.

Evidence has also formed an important part of our work as a member of the Voluntary Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) Health and Wellbeing Alliance, a partnership between the voluntary sector and the health and care system to provide a voice and improve the health and wellbeing for all communities. We provided evidence to improve understanding about the link between common mental health problems and employment for 16 to 25-year-olds, and to support effective practice by those working with young people experiencing these difficulties.

Find out more about this work on the young people’s health website.  In particular, you might be interested in a report on mental health and employment issues and a toolkit for closing the employment gap.

Another brilliant thing about the GP Patient Survey data is that it allows anyone to have free access to analyse the health of their local population to identify issues that patients are grappling with.  They can then work together – local authorities, health services and the voluntary sector – to commission and provide services that make a difference. To conduct your own analysis, you can use the survey’s analysis tool.

What might, at first glance, seem like a collection of numbers and spreadsheet columns, is in fact a valuable tool for turning evidence into policy, and policy into practice.

The GP Patient Survey hears from around 750,000 people across England annually and covers topics like making appointments, confidence in health professionals, and care planning.

The results are available for anyone to see at GP practice level, local commissioning group (CCG) level, and at national level visiting the survey website.

Laura Bennett

Laura Bennett is Carers Trust’s lead on policy and public affairs, including external relationships with stakeholders such as parliamentarians, government departments, NHS England, local government, and voluntary sector organisations. She has worked for the organisation since 2015.

Laura – who tweets as @LauraBWork – is a public policy professional, with experience of policy, public affairs and campaigns, supported by her background of project delivery, frontline work, partnership and strategic working. She has worked in a variety of local, regional and national voluntary sector organisations, as well as charities using the experience of service user experience and service delivery as evidence for change. These policy areas and organisations include end of life and palliative care, mental health, advice and information, volunteering, older people, Sense (where she led on their work as part of the Campaign to End Loneliness), and a local Mind.

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