Lifeline for carers thanks to Birmingham Carers Emergency Response Service

An emergency response carers’ service is giving peace of mind to overstretched carers in the Birmingham area.

When Susan Carter had her fourth stroke she realised she could no longer care for her 95-year-old great-aunt, Deirdre.* As she recovered, her son called Birmingham’s Carers Emergency Response Service (Cers), which stepped in to provide emergency care for Deirdre who was eventually taken to a care home. The support given by Cers meant that Carter was able to spend time explaining her decision to Deirdre, who is partially blind and suffers from arthritis.

“With the possibility of another stroke I worried about what would happen to my great-aunt. I was her sole carer and I was responsible for her 24/7. But Cers were so kind and sympathetic – they couldn’t do enough,” she says.

“Deirdre had got to know the staff so they were able to take her to the care home and helped her settle. Without them social services would have had to come straight away and take her [into a home]. They made it a lot easier for both of us,” she adds.

Cers was set up with funding from the New Deal for Carers, a £33m government support package for carers. Birmingham Council commissioned carers’ charity Crossroads to manage the scheme, which went live in April this year.

Carers who register with the free service are given back-up support in emergency situations when they cannot care for the person they usually look after. Calls to the service’s emergency helpline are answered by one of three managers who can arrange emergency care if necessary, for up to 48 hours, or 72 hours over a bank holiday. If the emergency is prolonged, social services and other relevant agencies take over the care.

When carers register they are visited by staff who create a detailed care plan, emergency plan and risk assessment. All carers are given a key fob and card with the service’s helpline and a unique identification number, which emergency service staff are briefed to look out for.

So far, Cers has more than 1,000 carers already signed up or in the process of registering. It has dealt with 17 emergencies through carers being ill, injured or rushed into hospital.

Cheryl Jones, Cers outreach manager, was involved in developing the project from the outset. She has brought first-hand knowledge and experience to the service as she is also a carer to her 13-year-old daughter, who has a severe learning disability.

“Some people might just want us to get in touch with friends and relatives,” she says. “Where people don’t have friends or relatives or where the care is too complex we would go out and deliver the care. It could be a sitting service or preparing meals, through to administering basic medication and liaising with hospitals and district nurses.”

Feedback so far has shown that the service has thrown a lifeline to carers, who so often neglect their own health when the focus is on the person they look after. Jones feels that the service is having a beneficial impact on the health of carers by alleviating some of the stress they are under.

“Part of the reason for setting up this service was to give carers peace of mind by offering them a safety net. A lot of carers are frightened to go out in case something happens to their loved one. The service is enabling people to have a life of their own. Rather than always being a carer, they can be themselves,” she adds.

As the registered care manager for Cers, Shelley Gray is responsible for the day-to-day running of the care service. She puts part of the scheme’s success down to the amount of time staff spend with carers and their ability to offer support through signposting and advocacy, as well as providing an emergency response.

Preventing emergencies

“When we do assessments we come across people in vulnerable situations so we take on problems we find out at this stage by signposting or acting as an advocate,” she says. “We try and prevent emergencies from happening. We build up a relationship with carers and they rely on us because there’s no stigma attached to us going out.”

The relationships being forged between Cers and individual carers are also having a positive impact on social workers, who are now more able to focus on safeguarding and critical needs. The service’s outreach team has given over 50 talks to social services teams across the city and social workers now ask carers if they would like to register with the Cers as part of their assessment.

Jones says: “We work closely with social workers and they feel we are really supporting them. We are helping to lighten the burden. A lot of people were initially sceptical about how this was going to work so we have had to sell it to people. Now we don’t think there is another scheme quite like this.”

* Not her real name

More information 

This article is published in the 30 July 2009 edition of Community Care magazine under the headline A Lifeline for Carers

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