Front Line Focus: Carers need surgeries

Last month, care services minister Ivan Lewis urged the first national carers summit to pressure the British Medical Association over GPs’ reluctance to do more to address carer’s health needs.

Carers have long called for more support from their family doctors. But Carers UK recognised as long ago as 1992 that badgering GPs does not work what is needed is for them to do things differently and to make best use of the skills of their practice team.

A scheme led by Surrey Primary Care Trust, and supported by South West Carers Strategy Group, Surrey Council, and Guildford and Waverley Borough Council, is leading the way in promoting better health for their carers.

A carers recognition support worker (CRSW) has been appointed to try to increase carer recognition within GP surgeries and drive cross-referrals to carer support agencies. Through building up relationships with the practice managers, the CRSW arranges talks with the GPs to explain the benefits to their surgeries of identifying carers and referring them to sources of advice and support.

The CRSW details the evidence that shows how being a carer can affect their health. If a carer’s own health breaks down, it places a huge responsibility on the NHS to pick up the pieces. It is vital, therefore, that carers are given information and support to protect their own health and to help them continue caring. And this is why GPs and other primary care professionals are being targeted.

A lack of information about benefits can lead to lasting poverty for carers. Equally, little knowledge about support provided by the NHS, local authorities and voluntary organisations can have a long-term negative impact on carers’ own health and well-being.

What GPs and other health professionals must not do is wait for carers to identify themselves, believe that supporting carers will cost too much in terms of time and money, and assume that carers have to do it all themselves without any specialist support.

As Ivan Lewis put it in his speech to the carers’ summit: “We have to change the culture”. Supporting carers is a sound investment in the continuity of care. Gradually this message is beginning to filter through.

Alison Brock is a carer recognition worker in South West Surrey

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