It’s time to tackle the caring crisis

It is vital that we all work together to get this right now before the Care Bill is passed, so that we do not leave groups of carers still slipping through the net of help and support.

Barbara Keeley MP is a member of the Commons Health Select Committee and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Care

Carers make an important contribution to society. Our health and care services would not manage without them; yet many carers face a struggle balancing their lives and jobs with their caring tasks.

Caring often takes a toll of the mental or physical health of carers. A survey by Macmillan Cancer Support found that almost half of carers of people with cancer are not receiving any support. These carers are caring for an average of fifteen hours every week while also juggling care with their jobs and family life.

One in four of the carers of people with cancer surveyed said they did not know what help is available. Many also found their caring role is not being recognised by health professionals, which means they are not being made aware of help that they can access nor being signposted to support such as a helpline or a local carers group.

Without any support or information some carers end up reaching crisis point.

The Care Bill is the chance to change this. It gives the chance to prioritise carers and offer them the help and support they need. I am pleased that carers’ rights have started to be recognised in the Bill, with all carers now entitled to an assessment.

However, the new duty on local authorities to have regard to the importance of identifying carers does not go far enough. If carers are identified by health professionals they can then be signposted to sources of help and support.

A 2013 Carers Week survey of over 2,000 carers found over 80 per cent of carers have contact with a hospital doctor or a GP during their caring journey. This compares to just 35 per cent who came into contact with local authority staff and 60 per cent with a social worker. If health professionals identified carers, many more carers could be made aware of sources of help, advice and support.

With the push for integration of health and social care services, it no longer makes sense to leave the NHS out of a new duty to identify carers. If this was changed it would ensure that GP practices, hospital trusts, commissioners and local authorities across England would work together to identify carers and signpost them to the support they need.

In both Wales and Scotland, this challenge has been recognised. They have both taken steps to address this in legislation. There are now statutory requirements on local health boards to lead on published strategies outlining how they will identify and support carers. Reports from health boards are already showing success, including increased referrals of carers by NHS staff to sources of help and support.

In July 2012, the government said in the Care and Support White Paper that it expected the NHS to work with local authority partners and local carers organisations to agree plans for identifying and supporting carers.

In September last year I introduced a Private Members’ Bill to the Commons which included duties on health bodies for the Identification of Carers. My Bill was supported by a cross-party group of twelve MPs and I think there is much support across Parliament to improve the way in which carers are identified and supported.

I urge the government to work with supportive MPs and with Macmillan, Carers UK and Carers Trust to find the best way of strengthening in legislation this important task of the identification of carers by health professionals.

It is vital that we all work together to get this right now before the Care Bill is passed, so that we do not leave groups of carers still slipping through the net of help and support.

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