Let’s make Croydon’s GP services carer-friendly

By - Monday 12th June, 2017

How should Croydon support those who spend so much of their time caring for others?

There are over 33,000 people in the borough of Croydon looking after a friend, family member or neighbour. Whether it’s an elderly parent, a sibling with a mental health problem or a child with autism, every carer plays a vital part in supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

Carers Week (Monday 12th – Sunday 18th June 2017) is a chance to celebrate all the hard work that carers do. At the Carers’ Support Centre in Croydon, our Carers’ Week events programme is jam-packed with advice sessions, talks, massage, dance, an information day and much more.

But Carers’ Week is more than just a week of celebration: it’s an opportunity to consider what we can do to support those who spend so much of their time caring for others.

Caring creates health risks, so it’s vital to look after carers

Caring can be very rewarding, but it can also be difficult and stressful. A 2012 survey by Carers UK of over 3000 carers found that 83% felt that caring negatively affected their health, rising to 87% who felt a such an impact on their mental health. Research has shown that carers face an increased risk of long-term health conditions such as back pain, high blood pressure, mental health problems and stroke.

The Carers’ Information Service (which runs the Carers’ Support Centre) recently surveyed over 200 carers about their experience with general practitioners. Our survey found that whilst 61% of carers registered with a Croydon GP said their doctor knew of their caring role, 82% had never been told by their GP about carers’ support.

Given the increased health risks of looking after someone, it’s essential that carers are properly supported to take care of themselves. As frontline NHS staff, GPs and GP practice staff are well placed to identify and support patients with a caring role. Asking if patients are carers, displaying leaflets and posters aimed at carers in waiting rooms and telling carers about local support can all help ensure that carers don’t miss out on what’s available.

“My life is on hold and I could scream sometimes”

One Croydon resident caring for her mother who responded to our survey explained that a lack of help from her GP made it very difficult to cope: “I have not been offered any help from either my GP or my mum’s… My mother is difficult and my life is on hold and I could scream sometimes”. Another carer felt that whilst her GPs were good as healthcare professionals, they did not recognise the impact caring had on her emotional and mental wellbeing: “My GPs are very good but they do not understand the stress I am under and do not encourage me to talk to them about my many problems”.

Lack of specific carer support was not the only concern raised by carers in our report. Further issues included a need for more flexible appointments, proactive health monitoring, better information sharing and greater understanding from some GPs and practice staff.

A lack of empathy for a carer’s situation can be extremely distressing. For example, one carer who asked for an emergency prescription for the person she cares for was told by her GP that “if you can’t organise yourself properly to stay on top of the medication prescription, you’re not fit to be his carer”. Such ill-judged comments have the potential to cause a great deal of harm to someone already under huge strain.

Supporting carers reduces hospital admissions and relieves strain on services

It’s important to recognise that it’s not all bad news. Good practice is out there and many carers who responded to our survey praised the service they received from their GP surgery. For example, carers really appreciated doctors and practice staff who showed a willingness to listen, to understand and to make adjustments to meet their needs. As one carer explained, “our GP service is very caring towards us. … The staff always make sure we are taking care of ourselves”.

It’s important to be honest about the difficult realities faced by our local health services. GPs are constantly under pressure from diminishing budgets and growing patient demand, and Croydon Clinical Commissioning Group is facing severe financial difficulties.

But despite these realities, taking small steps to meet carers’ needs now can lead to long-term benefits. For example, research shows that supporting carers can reduce hospital admissions in both carers and the patients they care for, relieving the pressure on overstretched Accident and Emergency departments. It may even lead to financial savings; according to NHS commissioning guidance, putting carer support in place to prevent long-term health risk saves around £4 for every £1 a CCG spends.

One in ten patients on a GP’s register will have caring responsibilities

At the Carers’ Information Service, we would like to see all GP surgeries taking action to ensure that no carer misses out. That’s why we are reaching out to GP surgeries and the Croydon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to let them know about the Carers Support Centre and see how we can work together to make carer support simpler for their surgery.

GPs and practice managers can now access a GP Carers’ Pack from the Carers’ Information Service, with information, a checklist and resources to help clinical and reception staff support carers at their practice. GPs can also directly refer carers to the Carers’ Support Centre for information, advice and support via our website.

An estimated one in ten patients on a GP surgery’s register will be a carer. By providing these patients with the right information, flexibility and understanding, GPs can make a real difference to their health and wellbeing. Let’s not miss the opportunity.

Amy Deakin

Amy Deakin

Amy Deakin is the Communications and Publications Officer at the Croydon Carers Support Centre, a drop in advice centre for unpaid carers based in George Street, Croydon town centre.

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