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Who cares for the carers?

Source: Public Sector Executive Jan/Feb 2012

West Berkshire’s Cllr Joe Mooney discusses a new project to improve services for ‘hidden carers’.

A joint initiative between West Berkshire, Reading and Wokingham councils and NHS Berkshire aims to streamline a process that recognises carers in the community and offer services for those in desperate need of support.

According to Cllr Joe Mooney, West Berkshire’s executive councillor for community care, appreciating the value of these carers is ‘long overdue’.

Organisations wanting to bid for the contract, worth £276,000 a year for at least three years, have until February 20. The new service will offer a first point of contact for all carers, and include targeted action to reach those who are ‘hidden’ or less likely to be taking up support services.

While this represents significant investment in a time of financial constraint, Mooney suggests: “When you look at the amount of unpaid carers out there, it may not seem a lot. It’s the first step.”

The approach of working in partnership with other councils is something Mooney highly recommends, as money is saved on overheads, meaning a larger amount of funding can be used directly to help unpaid carers.

He said: “You get much more value for your money. The consequences of that are the customer gets more. We want to make as many carers as possible aware of what their rights are.”

Identifying carers

The problem is that many carers do not identify themselves as such and do not understand their rights. This makes it more difficult for authorities and organisations to target support to the right people.

“There are a large number of people out there who are unpaid, unrecognised and even forgotten about,” Mooney said. “If we didn’t have them helping those individual members of family or friends we would have great difficulty. That’s why this support is vital.”

To achieve greater awareness of these rights, Mooney suggested that professionals like doctors must first understand the problem and be in a position to refer the carer for help.

Mooney said he wants to “stop this nonsense where people are going around knocking on door after door and being passed along the line to somebody else”.

“When you need help, you need it quickly. If things stay as they are at the moment, nothing will change.”

The social care system includes a vast array of carers, many of whom remain unknown to the authorities. To engage these people in communication would allow support to be provided, easing the burden of delivering constant care.

Take a break

Currently, the main support system available to carers is respite care, a service allowing the carer to take a break from their responsibilities. West Berkshire has a fund which allows the provision of this service to some identified carers, whilst transferring the individual they look after into a residential home.

Mooney explained: “People do need a break; they can’t carry on seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Sometimes the respite is needed because the carer needs to go into hospital.”

However support needs to be broader than just respite care, and this is one of the main targets the contract seeks to achieve, by bringing the issues out into the open and maximising funding for direct support.

A growing problem

Carers perform roles that are increasingly necessary to society, and deliver care that will only become more important in the future. Some carers may have their own health issues, in addition to the responsibility of looking after another person, as many are quite old themselves. With an ageing population, carers in their 80s could become commonplace, leading to additional complications for both the public sector and the health service.

Mooney said: “When we look at the demographics, the growth in the number of older people then yes, there will be an increasing demand put on carers.

“The issue is people have the right to remain in their own home as long as they possibly can and that is their choice, providing they can look after themselves. But a number of people only remain at home because of unpaid carers. I think the situation is going to grow. Part of the initiative is to try to make sure that we do take into account all the work of unpaid carers.”

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