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Carers Week in Wales
A 'Carer' is a family member or friend who is unpaid, but provides care and support to an extent that the individual cared for would not be able to 'function' to a reasonable or optimal level, without that care. One estimate suggests that there are around 300,000 Carers in Wales. This week I am focusing upon the valuable role of Carers and will follow-up with a related article detailing measures within the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act, 2014, dedicated to Carers next week.
So I'm writing this in the middle of Carers Week (6th - 12th June) an annual campaign dedicated to raise awareness of caring, highlight the challenges Carers face and recognise the contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK. In Wales the campaign is celebrated by numerous organisations involved with Carers to highlight the essential work that Carers do, often unseen and unrecognised. I remember when I was working on the community during my nursing career, I was feeling a little stressed with one of the service users I was supporting, when my supervisor asked me to consider how it would feel for the carer of that individual with 24/7 - 365 day responsibilities. It was a sobering thought.
Carers recognising their own role is a significant first step in utilising dedicated services and benefits. Within the network of health and social care services, Carers are often the glue that hold the whole system together. A first port of call is often a local Carers Centre.
In South Wales, Bridgend Carers Centre held their AGM as well as a lunch buffet and get-together for people supported by the centre to celebrate Carers Week. Here as with other Welsh Carer Centres there are many projects looking to support Carers in a myriad of ways including;
- Welsh language resources;
- Information, advice and support;
- Meeting other Carers for mutual support and sharing experiences;
- Support with money and benefits;
- Training and personal development.
Carers feel isolated
The theme of this year's campaign is 'Building Carer Friendly Communities'. The theme highlights the difficulties faced by carers in remaining included within communities and social networks. The activity of caring is disruptive for work, financial stability, social contacts and relationships and can often result in the carer becoming isolated and at risk of experiencing ill health themselves. Support services have been hit by cutbacks, whilst the rurality of much of Wales means that services can often be difficult to access. Across the UK as a whole;
- Over half of carers (51%) have let a health problem go untreated;
- Half of carers (50%) have seen their mental health get worse;
- Two thirds of carers (66%) have given up work or reduced their hours to care;
- Almost half of carers (47%) have struggled financially;
- Almost one third of carers (31%) only get help when it is an emergency.
One carer told me:
“I can cope with Mum's dementia but I have had to give up work in order to be constantly there for her. It means I can't work now so I am dependent on benefits. I find it difficult to find places we can go to together as Mum needs to rest and sit down as well as being forgetful and buses are difficult which makes things impossible unless I can get a lift there and back. It takes a toll on me."
Emily Holzhausen, who leads the Carers Week partnership, said:
“Carers have told us that it makes a huge difference to their lives when they are supported by their local services and communities; whether that’s being offered a flexible appointment to see their GP, having flexible working policies from their employers, or their school raising awareness of caring and disability...
“Despite this, the majority of carers told us that their local community was not supportive of their caring role, which in turn is having a significant and negatively impact on their life chances.
There is a whole range of conditions in which people need close personal care and support. These commonly include dementia, learning disabilities, depression, cancer, addictions, physical disabilities and degenerative conditions such as MS. I'm going to spend a moment considering the needs of Carers looking after a cancer sufferer.
In Wales, some 75,000 people live with and support an individual with Cancer. People living with cancer with the support of a Carer tend to do better than individuals living alone. The input of the Carer makes a significant difference in emotional and practical support. Whilst this finding highlights the difference a Carer can make, it also calls for services to do more for individuals who do not have a Carer to support them. Single men in particular seem to do less well, and the rationale for this is that women tend to have better developed social networks.
Macmillan Cancer Support talk about a Carer crisis and highlight the struggles that Carers often have. They report that many Carers don’t recognise the role and often miss out on benefits, support and services to which they are entitled. Of course without this level of targeted support many carers struggle to cope. Their finances, family life and ability to work can all be affected. Macmillan also report that many Carers suffer from problems such as stress, anxiety and depression.
Carers week this year comes at an opportune moment, with a new Carers’ Strategy in development in England, and a new government in Wales. Many Carer's organisations (Age UK, Carers Trust, Independent Age, Macmillan Cancer Support, Motor Neurone Disease Association, MS Society) are calling on the Welsh Government to take a fresh look at Carer's needs. The campaign in Wales is attempting to highlight that if we don't adequately recognise the Carer role, well-being outcomes for both the person they are caring for and the Carer themselves are likely to deteriorate. It really is a case of caring for the Carers.
Next week I will look at some of the new measures within the Well-being Act (2014) which specifically apply to Carers.
For more information on Carers Week go to; http://www.carersweek.org/
Nic Bowler – QCS Expert Welsh Care Contributor