The task of improving the care we provide in the NHS has to start from the perspectives of patients and carers, and the listening event Commitment for Carers, that NHS England and NHS Improving Quality held earlier this month, was a vital first step.
The defining moment of the day, for all of us I am sure, came when 19-year-old Russell shared his experience of how the growing demands of being a young carer for a parent and a sibling had coincided with exam pressures at school and driven him to the point of despair. Fortunately, his involvement with a group for young carers helped him regain a sense of control, but his measured reflections provided a sobering reminder of the need to stop other carers reaching crisis point.
The carers we heard from were clear and unanimous that they needed both support for the care they give but also recognition of their own health needs, emotional as well as physical. Yet too often this support and recognition comes too late or is missed altogether. Top of the priority list for NHS England was therefore the early identification of carers, but our commitments also included training for health professionals in the needs of carers and a national effort to promote best practice. I’ve kept a copy of the commitments on my mobile phone to remind me what we have promised.
We’ve taken the priorities away to turn into an action plan and we will need to work in partnership with clinicians and carers to establish how best to make progress. With many thousands of people taking on caring responsibilities every year, we have a lot to do to ensure their needs are recognised early. Joined up action will also be needed across health and social care to support carers and help prevent them from reaching crisis point. There is no doubt, however, that the Commitment for Carers day marked a significant milestone for NHS England and the start of a valuable conversation and, I hope, genuine partnership with carers and their organisations.
The day impressed on all of us the vital need to improve the experience of carers and ensure greater recognition for carers’ rights within the NHS. Work has already started with the Royal College of GPs and I, for one, pledge to shadow a carer in Carers Week next June. Small steps, implemented consistently across the NHS, should help ensure that in future young carers like Russell will be offered support before the pressures get too much.
Director of Patient Experience, NHS England
- Family carers – ‘for the love of it’ (nhsiq.wordpress.com)
- This is not my mum
- A personal reflection on new beginnings after half a century of caring (nhsiq.wordpress.com)
- A personal experience of caring (nhsiq.wordpress.com)
- Carers and dementia – Alistair Burns (nhsiq.wordpress.com)