By Maria Ahmed
The new health and social care white paper signals a fundamental shift in focus from hospitals to health and social care in local communities closer to people’s homes. What, in your view, will this mean for England’s six million carers?
Carers have often told us how difficult it is for them to manage their own lives when they are caring for a person who may have to go in and out of hospital. Carers have to spend a lot of time waiting around and if they are working they have to take annual leave to attend the hospital, which can mean they could end up losing their job if they take too much time off.
Moving care closer to home will provide much more flexibility around the needs of patients, service users and carers, and put carers in a better position. Carers will be able to get to know a smaller group of professionals rather than waiting around to see consultants in big hospitals.
On the potential downside, there is a worry that the shift to community care could result in a greater reliance on family carers if the proper infrastructure isn’t there, repeating some of the negative effects of the shift to community care in the early 1990’s. There must be a real understanding of the role of families, not outdated assumptions that there will be a “woman at home” to look after the patient.
Under the white paper’s “new deal” for carers, carers will get access to a dedicated helpline and information service. What are the information needs of carers, and what should the service provide?
Carer’s UK currently run the only national helpline to help carers access the information they need. At the moment carers face the confusing task of getting information from a variety of agencies – such as the department for work and pensions for benefits information and other agencies for home aids. There is a need for a service that has all the information in one port of call, provided by telephone and web. The service must also be able to deal with a high volume of carers. We would welcome the opportunity to provide this service.
The white paper pledges short-term respite support for carers in crisis or emergency situations in every council area. Given the currently uneven provision for carers, what need to be done to make this work?
This is a very good pledge as carers need help when emergency strikes. Every carer needs to have an emergency plan put in place in case of illness or other crisis to help prevent anxiety. While money is currently allocated for carer’s breaks, this will need to be ringfenced so spending can be monitored as there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that not all councils are spending the money on breaks.
The government says it will allocate specific funding for the creation of an “expert carer’s programme” to provide training for carers to develop healthcare skills. What do you think this should involve?
The programme should help carers to carry out their responsibilities in a way that does not have a negative impact on their health and wellbeing. Carers should be trained in safe lifting, handling medication, how to manage stress and avoid injury.
The government has not outlined how much money will be made available for carers services. How hopeful are you that the government will be able to match its promises with the right funding?
At present I have no idea about what money will be made available, but I am hopeful.
Are the white paper proposals ambitious enough? What more does the government need to do to support carers, and how should this be balanced with other forms of provision?
The white paper contains a pledge to revisit the carer’s strategy which I welcome. I hope this will help focus the proposals on issues of equality and social inclusion as well as health and social care. There is a need for strong cross-government working to drive the proposals forward.
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