Too many carers going without seeing a doctor

New figures from Carers UK have revealed that unpaid carers are unable to see a doctor because they can’t get a break from caring.

The charity says that one in three carers looking after older, disabled or ill relatives say they would use a break from caring to attend a medical appointment, and 50 per cent would catch up on much needed sleep.

Only eight per cent of England’s unpaid carers say they have been able to take a sufficient break from caring, with the majority providing over 50 hours of care every week.

The cost and quality of replacement care, as well as not knowing where to get information about taking a break, are the most common reasons for carers being left without the fundamental right to take time off to attend a medical appointment.

Carers UK has also revealed that unpaid carers seeking replacement care for loved ones are subjected to a postcode lottery, with a freedom of information request revealing a wide disparity in the amount of money local authorities and CCGs are spending on carers’ breaks through the dedicated Better Care Fund, with some spending nothing at all and others unable to say how much they are spending on breaks.

Carers UK is urging the government to double the Better Care Fund from £130 million to £260 million and ensure this money is ring-fenced so that carers around the country can get the breaks they need. The charity also wants to see carers’ breaks made a core part of the government’s strategy for fixing the social care crisis.

Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, said: “Imagine never having a break from work, a basic human right and essential for staying well. Then imagine you do get some time off and you have to head straight to the doctor. Is that really a break? Unpaid carers propping up our underfunded social care system are burning out and desperately need time off from their caring roles to look after themselves.

“The government’s recent £1.5 billion injection into the system will stabilise it for now, but we must see a longer term strategy for social care that acknowledges the enormous contribution of unpaid carers, includes double the funding for carers’ breaks and puts breaks at the heart of social care reforms.”

Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board said: “Our care system could not survive without the contribution of unpaid carers who provide vital support for thousands of people every day. Councils fully recognise their crucial role and supported or assessed more than 360,000 unpaid carers in 2017/18.

“Unpaid caring can be extremely rewarding but we know it can also be a real strain – emotionally, physically and financially, which is why councils are committed to doing all they can to support them. How money from the Better Care Fund is spent is rightly determined locally including by councils, according to local needs and pressures. This includes funding for carers’ breaks, which could also be met from other funding sources.

“Extra funding for social care next year will help councils as they strive to support adults of all ages as well as unpaid carers to live the lives they want to lead. However, pressures will continue to rise. The Government needs to publish its proposals for the future of adult social care as soon as possible and work on a cross-party basis to spark a truly nationwide public debate about the value of social care and how, as a nation, we will pay for it in the years ahead.”