Carers Health - Who Cares for Carers
Dr Roger Brown discusses the health of carers and who is caring for them. How an Increasing burden, stress and in many cases lack of financial support is affecting their health.
As part of his bi-weekly health column, Dr. Roger Brown pays tribute to some of societies unsung heroes and explains why you should too!
Imagine being the parent of a child with special needs, or the spouse of someone struck down by long term illness, or the neighbour of an old person without family who has come home after being in hospital for a long time, and you are suddenly their carer.
Most people take on caring, initially at least, because it is the natural and admirable thing to do, but it is a daunting task. Most take it on without any training or preparation, learning ‘on the job’ and eventually becoming worn out physically and mentally and fearful of how they will go on coping.
As a GP, I have witnessed these situations first hand for many years and sensed the burden these unpaid carers feel. In most cases, there is not a word of complaint and I only find out how this is affecting the carer by asking specifically how they are themselves.
Carers care enough to protect the person in need from any sense of burden and often their charge is the only one they have any meaningful contact with, so they have no-one else to talk to about how they are feeling.
There are government benefits available to help the ‘cared for’ person to support themselves and many have paid carers, too, such is the physical burden of caring. But this is nowhere near a salary and the carer often has had to give up their job, adding a financial burden to their already heavy load.
A number of years ago I became aware of a few agencies who specifically recognise carers and support them. One of the first was the local church, who had an Alzheimer's carers support group. Crossroads, an agency designed to provide ‘cover’ for short spells, allows carers to do the shopping, get their hair done, go to the bank and so on. The Princess Royal Trust enables carers to access support from professionals, volunteers and other carers.
There is a severe lack of support for carers generally. Existing agencies struggle to find enough resource to do the job as well as they would like to because while these and other organisations are excellent they are funded by charitable giving which, like everything else, has been hit by the recession in the past 5-6 years.
Some have financial support from health boards and trusts - a vital lifeline without which they may have folded – but I understand some trusts are reviewing this funding and that from 1st April some may have their funding cut.
This is very worrying. While it is important to balance the books, I feel strongly that the support of unpaid carers is key to the whole care industry. If our unpaid carers went on strike or took ill due to the stress of caring, who would do what they do? My guess is that the poor cared-for folks would end up in the already over-stretched and over-burdened hospitals which are funded by the same trusts. Imagine what that would do to their budgets!
I would like to pay tribute to the many unpaid carers in our communities. Please acknowledge, applaud and help them by lobbying politicians and health care trusts to keep these vital support networks going. It could happen to any of us - and who would we turn to if these excellent agencies for carers did not exist?
Dr Roger Brown
If you are a Carer and require guidance and support visit NI Direct Caring for Someone for information on the services available to help you in your caring role.