Our long term commitment to carers

NHS England’s Director for Experience, Participation and Equalities looks at how the Long Term Plan for the NHS will impact on carers:

It’s often said that all of us are patients at some time in our lives but it’s less often acknowledged that most of us will also be unpaid carers too.

Nearly one in five people who responded to our GP Patient Survey said they had caring responsibilities and, as society ages, every year we see a million people become carers for the first time.

The NHS depends on the vital contribution carers make but people looking after family or friend need to feel recognised and supported. That’s why the NHS LongTerm Plan, launched yesterday, outlines the most ambitious ever set of NHS Commitments to Carers.

We’ve already made progress since the launch of the Five Year Plan in improving the identification and support of carers. Integrated Care Systems across a third of the country have identified almost a third of carers living in their communities and are making sure they have access to flexible appointments, support groups and carers breaks.

Leading NHS Trusts have developed carer passports that provide bespoke rights, support, discounted parking and catering. Young carers have worked with us to raise awareness of their experiences among health professionals and share top tips on providing better support. And our new Quality Markers for primary care identify best practice in carer identification and support.

The new plan pledges to maintain our focus on identifying and supporting carers and makes some important new pledges.

First, carers should not have to deal with emergencies on their own. We will ensure that up to 100,000 carers have appropriate back-up support in place for when they need it and have that information included in their Summary Care Records for when they, or health and care professionals working with them, might need it.

Second, we need to prevent young carers struggling on their own with difficult and multiple challenges. We will roll out ‘top tips’ for general practice, developed by Young Carers, which will give up to 20,000 young people better access to preventive health and social prescribing and timely referral to local support services

Third, carers from excluded and marginalised communities are more likely to suffer from poor health, due to a lack of information and support, finance concerns, stress and social isolation. We will work with those communities to improve care and narrow the gap.

Fourth, we will spread what works across the country. We will encourage the national adoption of carer passports and set out guidelines for their use based on trials in Manchester and Bristol. These will be complemented by developments to electronic health records, that allow people to share their caring status with healthcare professionals wherever they present.

As well as these specific commitments to carers, other elements of the Long Term Plan will have a positive impact too, such as the commitment to improve flexibility and wellbeing in employment for NHS staff with caring responsibilities. We will also help young carers who so wish to use their life experience to extend their skills in volunteering, apprenticeships and NHS employment.

If we are to build an NHS that is fit for the future then carers must be full partners in the way we deliver that care.

We must join up our services around their needs as well as those of the patient and we must help them look after their health and wellbeing to enable them to sustain their vital caring role.

Dr Neil Churchill

Dr Neil Churchill is Director for Experience, Participation and Equalities at NHS England.

His brief includes insight and feedback, patient participation in decision-making, improvement programmes on cancer, learning disability and support for carers and national partnerships with volunteers and the voluntary sector.

Neil joined NHS England in 2013 after a 25 year career in the voluntary sector at organisations including Barnardo’s, Age Concern, Crisis and Asthma UK. He has been a Non-Executive Director for NHS South of England, an appointed member of the National Information Governance Board and a trustee of a number of charities across the UK.

Neil is a member of the Executive Board for the Beryl Institute, a change agent from the School for Change Agents and a member of Q, the quality improvement collaborative from the Health Foundation. He tweets as @neilgchurchill