Carers Question Time Panel: How the NHS and social care can support carers

by Gerry Mahaffey
Assistant Director, Carers’ Services, Patient and Family Engagement

As part of Carers Week, carers, carers’ groups and representatives from health and social care organisations came together on Wednesday at Westminster, Portcullis House, to explore how services can improve the lives of carers and the people they care for.

The discussion was based on a Question Time panel format and chaired by David Brindle of The Guardian, included Rt. Hon. Norman Lamb, Minister of State for Care and Support, MP, and key representatives  from the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), the Association of Directors of  Adult Social Services, Skills for Care and Public Health England. Former minister, Paul Burstow MP, introduced the topic.

A lively and challenging debate

The discussion was lively and covered challenging themes. Right from the beginning the core issue emerged of how to identify the millions of people who do not identify themselves as a carer. The new Care Bill, which carers have long campaigned for, gives all carers new rights to assessments and to services in their own rights. This first step in accessing these new rights is identification. For those caring for someone at the end of life there is the further issue of identifying death and dying.

An important theme following on from this was the importance of health agencies in identifying carers. Professor Nigel Sparrow from the RCGP emphasised the importance of GPs being ‘carer aware’ and that best practice demanded carers are offered health checks. Health workers in hospitals or in the community need to ask carers themselves, ‘How are you doing?’

The economic reasons for health services to focus on carers are clear. All evidence has shown that carers are at great risks of health problems due to their role while analysis of the census demonstrates that carers who care intensively are two-and-a-half times more likely to have bad or very bad health than those not caring in the population.

Information is key

Sally Warren, Director of Programmes at the new Public Health England, emphasised the importance of information and support to carers as part of its overall strategy.

Independent advice and information are key pillars to giving carers power, choice and control. We know that those caring for someone at the end of life often do not receive the information in time; by the time they receive the information it can often be too late. Therefore the importance of information and services being fast-tracked.

Sandie Keene, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, talked about the need to fund innovative services such as local carers’ centres, especially during these times of increasing budget cuts. At a strategic local level, the new health and wellbeing boards and joint commissioning structures will be vital for carers.

Carers unanimously agree that navigating the health and social care system is one of the fundamental challenges. Norman Lamb discussed at a personal level the recent difficulties that even he faced in exploring support for his elderly parent along with his two sisters.

The challenges of navigating the system for people caring for someone at the end of life are even more poignant.