We are now drawing to the close of Carers Week and this has made me reflect on the positive advances we have made and will make in the future in how we improve the quality of care and support, including support for carers, while recognising that there is still much more to be done.
The theme of Carers Week 2013 is ‘Prepared to Care’. This campaign is about supporting existing carers and the estimated 2 million people who become carers annually. Carers Week 2013 has also been highlighting the impact of caring in daily life and, with an ageing population and higher incidence of disability and serious illness, encouraging the public to think how they could manage a caring role because we are all likely to face this at some time in our lives. There will also be a push to make sure carers are accessing all the assistance available to them, both practically and emotionally.
Important ways we are supporting carers:
Supporting carers to remain in employment
We are increasing awareness of the right to request flexible working after 26 weeks of paid employment. A Task and Finish Group jointly chaired by the Department of Health and Employers for Carers has been looking at how carers can be better supported to remain in employment and will report to ministers this summer.
Supporting carers in their roles and ensuring that they are identified earlier
DH is already working to improve recognition and understanding of the impact of caring on all carers among the various healthcare professionals with whom they come into contact. DH has, over the past three years, provided funding of over £1.5 million to the Royal College of General Practitioners, Carers UK, the Carers Trust to develop a range of initiatives for those working in primary care and the community to increase their awareness and understanding of carers’ health and other needs.
Improving assessment and support for carers who look after people with dementia
With a quarter of hospital patients having dementia, ensuring that their carers are fully engaged with planning and delivering their care is essential. The dementia commission for quality and innovation (CQUIN) initiative this year asks hospitals to undertake a monthly audit of carers of patients with dementia to see if they feel supported.
Supporting carers through changes to benefits
DWP has announced that the Carer’s Allowance will continue to exist as a separate benefit outside of Universal Credit. They will review how Carer’s Allowance and Universal Credit work together and will continue to consider future reform of Carer’s Allowance. The Universal Credit award will include a carer element, which will continue for as long as the carer provides care for at least 35 hours per week for a severely disabled person.
The publication of the Care Bill heralds a step change in the rights of carers but there is a long distance to travel to turn that into reality on the ground. The reform of care in this country will not happen instantly - all of us working in the health and social care sector must be committed to the process of reform if we are truly to make a difference.
Therefore I want to offer a series of challenges.
To health and well being boards:
Are the needs of carers and the importance of their role properly reflected in the Health and Well Being Strategy?
Is the carer’s voice prominent enough in your emerging structures and work programmes?
Is the value of carers properly recognised in preventative strategies and in financial allocations?
To clinical commissioning groups (CCGs):
Are you making sure that all GPs are proactively concerned about the health needs of the carer, as well as the ‘cared for’?
Most carers ‘care’ from a deep repository of love. But we must not take that care for granted. It comes at significant personal cost, while saving the country a large amount of money that we could otherwise not afford. We therefore need to ensure that our carers are themselves ‘cared for’ so they can stay the course and still enjoy a fulfilling life of their own.
I am proud that I and the department have the responsibility of representing carers’ needs across Whitehall. It is a part of my role that I will prioritise, but to do it well I will need direct guidance from carers and those like Carers UK that represent them. I would therefore welcome your feedback at @RouseJonDGDH or firstname.lastname@example.org.