I maybe naively was unaware of the large numbers of unpaid carers that there are in Scotland, and of the crucial role they play in supporting their loved ones. I was horrified to learn that children as young as 5 provide support to their parents, a massive undertaking for someone much older in years let alone a child. I did of course as part of my previous clinical role speak to carers as part of my day to day work, but in hindsight I do not believe I truly involved them and supported them in a way that I should have. I was unaware of the resources available in our local communities to support them and to signpost them to.
All that changed when as part of my role as an improvement advisor I became involved in a project aimed at supporting carers and involving them in the discharge process from acute hospitals.
I was astounded to learn that there is an estimated 657,000 unpaid carers in Scotland, and supporting carers has never been so important and so vital in order to sustain our already stretched services. Unpaid carers provide crucial care and support to their loved ones and friends that simply cannot be provided by formal care services, taking them to a hospital appointment, sitting up with them all night when they are ill, the list goes on.
So how did our project come about……
Under the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016, which came into effect in April 2018 all health boards and local authorities have a legal responsibility to support carers health and wellbeing and help make caring more sustainable. In conjunction with the Scottish Government several health boards were allocated money to implement section 28 of the carers act, carer involvement in hospital discharge.
Following discussions with all the carers centres, and our health and social care partnership colleagues we decided to employ a Carers Support Worker for both of our acute hospital sites. The Carers Support workers are available within the wards during core hours Monday to Friday. Out with this time there are numbers provided for the carers centres that anyone, staff or carer, can contact. We advertised the service by placing posters in all ward areas.
We have also hosted 2 events on the acute sites to showcase the work of the carers support workers and the centres, but more importantly it let those attending hear about the vital work through the experiences of some of the carers, which proved to be emotional and hard hitting. It is not just the acute hospital sites that are benefitting as we have been involved in promoting the work of the carers centres on some of our community sites through hosting open afternoons and awareness sessions.
The project has also allowed the carers centres to work closely together and they have standardised the referral process from both sites. More importantly the carers are receiving support and information on a range of subjects including benefits, respite and wellbeing. They have found support in the staff from the centres and the others who attend.
However there is still a long way to go to ensure that we are fully supporting and involving carers in hospital discharge. It is so important to involve carers in our discharge planning at an early stage, by missing this opportunity we risk delays to our discharge processes due to a lack of engagement with carers. If carers know what support and resources are available to them it may help them continue their caring role for longer and allow the one they care for to remain at home.
Here are my top tips on how simply you can make a difference
- Listen to families and friends, they may have caring responsibilities and don’t realise this
- Not all will identify with or call themselves a carer
- Learn about what services are in your community, you will be amazed by the work that they do and the difference they make
Investigate who the carer is. It isn’t something that takes a lot of time but it could make the world of difference to someone who may already be overwhelmed caring for a loved one. And you never know someday we may be in their position and be glad of the support and understanding.