For a few weeks every autumn the news is full of stories from the party conferences of the three main parties – analysis of the leaders speeches (and what they did or maybe didn’t say), rumours of potential leadership bids from political rivals and news pundits trying to ascertain the mood of the conference delegates.
However there is much more to party conference season than the short snippets that get shown on the news. It’s a really important opportunity for us to speak to key decision makers and to talk about the needs of carers.
In September and October Carers Trust’s Policy Team attended the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat Party Conferences in Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow. Continue reading
The theme of Carers Week this year is “In sickness and in health.” You can look at that from all sorts of points of view. Obviously the quotation is taken from marriage vows, and for those people caring for a partner, but no less for those caring for parents, siblings, children, or friends, you’re there alongside each other through thick and thin. So the theme of Carers week might prompt you to reflect on the good times and the bad, the positive times and the difficult times. We don’t just discard someone when they’re ill, disabled or frail – we’re in it together.
But no-one’s saying that’s easy, and if you’re the person providing the care, it can feel unending, exhausting and frustrating some days. And things are getting worse- services closing with cutbacks, and less benefit money available. The research carried out for Carers Week found that 84% of people never expected to be a carer – and who does? Caring is something that generally comes unexpectedly – sometimes it happens overnight, or sometimes if develops slowly, depending on the situation of the person you care for.
Many carers feel sad for the different future there might have been, or sometimes the person they feel they’ve lost. Despite this, few carers walk away –not completely, at least although many sometimes wonder what would happen if they did. Carers Week is a chance to recognise the millions of carers who, through thick and thin, good times and bad, are there to care.
Thank you all, so much.
But it’s not just about the health of the person who has the care needs. Carers often put their own health on the back burner. Things need to be done, and perhaps there’s no-one else. So you get on with it, just do it, even though you’re exhausted, even though you’re feeling ill or really low. The problem is that if you’re exhausted, and you get ill, then who’s going to care for you, and the person you care for?
It’s hard to prioritise your own health. Many carers find it hard to take a break and even getting to doctor’s appointments. Having the mental energy to make an appointment, with all the messing about that entails is sometimes just another hassle that carers can do without.
With 10% of the population having a caring role, and the huge levels of poor health within the caring population, the Government needs to address this differently. We need to think of this as a public health issue. We know about lots of factors which make people unwell – lack of exercise, poor diet, smoking, drinking too much, as well as the social factors that are linked to this. The Government realises it needs to address those as they not only cost the NHS but they also on people’s ability to work, and so massive campaigns are funded. But where are they putting the resources in to support carers’ physical and mental health? The kind of money that would really make a difference?
I know there’s not a lot of money about. But saving money at the expense of carers’ health, whilst expecting them just to pick up the pieces left behind by the reduction in services and decimation of benefits, is no kind of saving. Carers already give up so much to help another person. They shouldn’t have to wreck their health too.
Carers Week http://carersweek.org/
There are campaign materials available for carers – template letters/emails to MPs, GP surgeries and for politicians to send to local authorities/CCGs/health trusts etc. Download campaign templates here
The NHS in England is receiving an additional £400m over four years, 2011-15, to increase support for carers but our report, published today, has found that the NHS has not increased the level of spending on services for carers from last year. Indeed, there might be a small decrease.
There has been progress in some areas where local primary care trusts (PCTs) are investing significant amounts, such as £2m, in services for carers in 2011/12. In these areas more carers will access breaks, receive training to help them manage their caring role, and specialist support for carers caring for somebody at the end of their life.
But there are still PCTs (4%) that are investing nothing in services for carers, with another 8% investing less than £100,000 this year. We need these PCTs to look at the fantastic work being done in places like Torbay, Bristol, Surrey and in the South of Tyne and Wear and see the benefits to carers, patients and the NHS itself that investing in carers can produce. Torbay has found that supporting carers has enabled smoother discharges of patients from hospitals, a key aim for the NHS and Dr Thomas, a GP and Chair of Torbay Professional Executive Committee believes carers are a top priority:
“Introducing Carers Support Workers in our practices has produced many benefits. It has facilitated early identification of people who are carers offering them practical and emotional support. As the population ages and more people live with long term disability the support for carers will remain a priority.”
The challenge for Government must be to ensure that with more new money being given to the NHS in 2012/13, the NHS uses it to support carers. I seem to have said this every year for three years but I do think Government will act to push this.
The Health Minister, Paul Burstow, is taking this report seriously and we met with him on Tuesday to discuss our findings. He will act to increase the expectations on PCTs, and on this he has the backing of the Prime Minister who had requested an investigation into how PCTs were spending the additional money.
PCTs are facing a particularly difficult year in 2011/12, including tightening budgets, but the Government has been clear about PCTs’ responsibilities regarding carers. But some PCTs are failing in their duty to carry out what has requested of them. For instance, only 13% of PCTs have published budgets for supporting carers when all were meant to by 2 September.
However, PCTs do not only have a duty to Government, they also have a duty to support those who sacrifice so much to care for others and a duty of care to their patients who are often relying on support from these carers. Too many are failing in this.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron has written to the Department of Health asking them to investigate how the money
committed to providing breaks for carers is being allocated and used by Primary Care Trusts. He has advised that this is an “issue of personal importance to me” and that “we must support carers who do the most valuable work often at great personal cost to themselves. We must ensure that carers are provided with the support they need.”
Cameron’s intervention came about after a letter from Theresa Villiers MP, who attended our Give Carers a Break campaign launch earlier this year. It also comes after previous Department of Health action on this issue and we await the Department of Health’s response to this request.
Previously, the Department of Health did act after our report detailed the failure of PCTs to develop plans and budgets to support carers with local carers’ charities, as Government requested. They requested that all PCTs advise by 2nd September if they had published plans and budgets to support carers. It was expected that PCTs missed this date only in exceptional circumstances.
Government is now clarifying some of the information returned, and we have also started our review of whether PCTs have published plans and budgets and how much is being allocated.
Government have also said that they will release guidance next month giving clear expectations of how Primary Care Trusts (and Clinical Commissioning Groups, successors to PCTs) should support carers in the next financial year 2012/13.
I hope these are steps forward to real change.
This blog post has been contributed by Will Davidson:
I’m Will Davidson, I have been volunteering with the Policy department at The Princess Royal Trust for Carers for the past two months, helping to research how government proposals will affect carers, especially on the issue of Carers Breaks.
Today we launched a report looking at whether Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) have been working with carers’ organisations to develop plans and budgets for carers breaks and if these plans have been published. Late last year the Coalition Government announced increased support for carers by allocating an additional £400m over 4 years to PCTs to focus on providing breaks for carers. They requested that each PCT works with local authorities and carers’ organisations to publish policies, plans and budgets to support carers.
So are PCTs following these guidelines set out by the Government? Do carers’ organisations feel more engaged now than they did before these announcements?
We found that only 9% of PCTs had developed updated plans and budgets for carers taking into account the additional money. 54% said that they would do so during 2011/12, and some very shortly. Carers will be disappointed that many PCTs are still developing plans eight months after the Government announcement and guidance. The remaining 37% said they would not be updating their plans.
For me, the most concerning finding is the number of PCTs still not working with carers’ organisations to develop plans and budgets. 82% of PCTs advised that they were working with carers’ organisations to develop plans and budgets, but carers’ organisations did not agree. 40% of PCTs were judged by carers’ organisations not to have engaged at all to develop plans and budgets.
Having minimal or irregular contact with carers’ organisations, or providing some funding for organisations connected to supporting carers does not in our view constitute real co-production of plans and budgets.
That said the examples in Sunderland and Richmond highlighted in previous blogs show that there is progress being made in some places, and we do think that more PCTs are now engaging with carers’ organisations and funding services than before. But the NHS as a whole has not made a breakthrough in supporting carers. PCTs must redouble their efforts, admittedly at a time of uncertainty for them, and Government must remember its’ responsibility and commitment to carers when considering its response to our findings.