Carers Week 2013, 10–16 June: Prepared to Care?

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

Most people will be a carer at some point in their lives. Yet, new research from Carers Week reveals that the majority of carers are unprepared for the eventuality and unaware of the support available.

With around 6.5 million carers in the UK – a 11 per cent increase since 2001 – and 6,000 people taking on a new caring role every day, a coalition of charities, including Marie Curie, are calling for the government, GPs and other health and social care professionals to ensure that more support is given to carers from day one.

Many people do not see themselves as carers – they would simply call themselves a wife, a son, a friend, or other loved one. This often presents a barrier to the carer seeking out formal support to undertake their role.

There are approximately 500,000 people caring for someone at the end of life. Many people wish to die at home, but this may not be feasible if carers are unable to cope.

We know that caring for someone who is terminally ill places a huge amount of stress on carers. If carers are unsupported, that stress can frequently become too much, leading to physical and emotional problems. They are two or three times more likely to be in bad or very bad health if they are caring intensively – over 50 hours per week.

Over 80 per cent of carers who participated in the Carers Week research were not aware of the support that was available, despite contact with various health and social care professionals. Worryingly, one in five carers admitted that they were unable to cope and broke down as a result.

Support can come from a host of places – dedicated services for carers, specialist organisations, other carers, family and friends, employers and health and social care professionals.

At Marie Curie we provide care and support to carers and families, as well as people at the end of their lives. As well as the carer and family-focused services offered by our hospices, we also run the Marie Curie Helper service. Our service provides people with any terminal illness and their families a free one-to-one support service. The Marie Curie Helper service is provided by specially trained volunteers who offer companionship and support and the Helper volunteers can be matched to and support the terminally ill person, their carer, or both. They also help carers and families to take short breaks from their caring roles and provide information on relevant local services that would be of benefit to carers, families, and the people they are caring for. Support for carers from a Marie Curie Helper volunteer continues after a loved one has passed away.

Hospices are often viewed as a place to die, but many hospices offer a range of services for people with terminal illnesses, carers, and families, ranging from complementary therapies, advanced care planning, respite, financial advice and practical support, including support after death. Our hospices are held in high regard by carers, who are typically impressed by the attentiveness of staff, the environment, the relaxed atmosphere and the range of activities and therapies available.

We know that caring for someone at the end of life is hard for carers and frequently exhausting. We also know many of these carers will face breakdowns in their emotional and physical wellbeing and will experience loneliness and paralysing grief without support.

This is why we, along with other organisations, are calling for the Government, GPs and other professionals to ensure that more help is on offer – so that the three out of five people in the UK who are or will become carers are 'Prepared to Care'.

Find out more about National Carers Week 2013