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Pharmacies as the frontline to identifying carers

I’m working on a pilot scheme at Carers Trust that aims to identify ‘hidden carers’ when they go into pharmacies to use their services. When I read the job description and first heard the expression ‘hidden carers’ I was a bit worried. Who was hiding these carers? Why? How do they get away with it? It hardly seemed fair.

Then I discovered that ‘hidden carers’ aren’t really hidden at all. Far from it, they are everyday people trying to go about their everyday business in everyday places, just like everyone else. Except that on top of all that they have this additional responsibility of looking after someone who wouldn’t be able to manage without their support, which makes everyday life and everyday activities not quite so everyday compared to the way I look at things. It turns out that ‘hidden carers’ are those people who have got these extra responsibilities, but haven’t been offered any support to lessen the impact of their caring role.

PharmacyWith this in mind it’s very clear why it’s so important to find these carers, and to make sure they are told about the range of help that is out there available to them. And so where better to reach people going about their everyday business than pharmacies? There are lots of statistics available about the number of pharmacies across the country and how many millions of people use them each day, but the bottom line is most pharmacies are based at the heart of the local community, and importantly people do use them on a regular basis. All those statistics I mentioned before tell us that more people go into a pharmacy each day than any other healthcare setting.

There’s something else that’s important as well. We trust our pharmacies, and because of that trust we let them get to know about us, what medicines we are picking up, what they are for, who they are for and effectively what’s going on in our lives. This puts pharmacy staff in an ideal position to be aware of somebody who might be regularly picking those medicines up for somebody else, to ask them if they are looking after somebody and if so to tell them about the help they can get that they might not otherwise know about.

This is why pharmacies can be seen as being on the frontline to identifying carers.

So what about the pilot? Well, it’s only been running for two weeks, but it’s going really well. In those two weeks 62 ‘hidden carers’ have been identified by pharmacy staff and have agreed to be referred to find out what help might be available. And these are early days so as more of the pilot sites get up and running fully we expect that number to increase.

And do you know what the really exciting thing is? It’s really not that difficult to do! It’s just a quick conversation a member of the pharmacy team can have with somebody they might think is looking after someone and might be a carer, they fill in a form to get their details (this takes 30 seconds), they send that form on from the pharmacy by secure email – and from there the local carers organisation will send an information pack or make a telephone call within days to follow up directly with the carer. And if requested the same system we’ve put in place will also let their GP know, so the next time they see them the GP can ask how they’re doing.

We know that pharmacy staff want to help people in their communities, including carers, and the training we’ve provided has shown them that it’s quick, easy and straightforward to make a difference. At the end of the pilot we hope we’ll be in a strong position to show that there’s no good reason why even more pharmacies shouldn’t get on board – and show that there are plenty of good reasons why they should.


Alan Chappell is Project Officer (Primary Care and Community Links) at Carers Trust


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December 9, 2014 - Posted by | Hidden carers

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