When I started at a surgery I was given the job of Carers Lead. Now back then I didn’t really know much about Carers – in fact to be honest I actually thought that all Carers were in fact paid workers – those that looked after people in their home or in a residential home.
How wrong was I? I soon became to realise that there were hundreds of unsung heroes within our practice looking after people day in and day for nothing – they purely did it out of love.
What is a definition of a Carer?
A carer is someone who without payment, provides help and support to a friend neighbour or relative who could not manage otherwise because of frailty, illness or disability including mental health problems and substance misuse.
Anyone can become a carer.
Carers come from all walks of life, all cultures and can of any age. Many feel they are doing what anyone else would in the same situation.
A carer may even be juggling paid work with their unpaid caring responsibilities at home or they may be a young carer – aged 4 – 18 who is also having to attend school.
Most carers will not recognise themselves under the term ‘carer’; they are just people trying to cope as best they can whilst helping to look after a relative or friend who is frail, ill or disabled.
My first job was to identify Carers within the practice. I then started a carers register. Before anyone was added to the register they were always asked first if they wanted to be on the register.
We asked the doctors and nurses to help identify carers – briefly explain that we had a carers register and if they wanted to be part of them to come and see someone in reception.
We put notices up in the surgery asking is anyone wanted to be included in our carers register. We has leaflets in reception and we added it to our monthly newsletter. We added the information to our new patients information sheet.
In reception we would have a carer’s registration form for them to complete. Simple details of their name, contact details and the person they were caring for (often a carer might be caring for someone who was not at our practice – perhaps a neighbour or a friend – but this is about them – the carer and not the cared for patient) it was important to know if the cared for person was a patient at the surgery or not.
Once the patient agreed to go onto the register I would add them to the computer as a carer.
This was useful for searches, and for all the healthcare professionals to see that they were a carer. Often carer might present themselves to the surgery with symptoms such as bad backs, depression, and exhaustion and not identify it with being a carer – this sometimes can help the healthcare professional identify the carers needs.
A carer can often save the health service a lot of money – if the carer was not there for what ever reason the cared for person would quite possibly end up in hospital, a nursing or residential home.
When the flu season was on the practice nurse would come along at the end of the meeting to give the carers their flu vaccinaction if their required it – this saved them having to come back to the surgery at another time – again this helped them in as much they didnt have to worry about getting sitters in – or leaving the cared for person on their own.
It is so important to look after the needs of a carer.
It helped if we could identify a carer when they wanted to make an appointment. If the receptionist was aware that they were a carer she would try to make sure that the carer had an appointment suited around the person they were caring for. Some carers might have to get the cared for person out of bed in the morning – so a very early appointment might not be good. They might need to be there to feed the cared for person early evening – so again a late appointment would not be suitable – any way we could go to make life easier for the carer we would certainly try to do so.
Once every 3 months I would organise a carers meeting at the surgery. This was usually held at lunchtime in the meeting room.
Carers were encouraged to come along without the person they cared for – this in time proved to be valuable as carers could quite often talk openly about their thoughts, feeling and fears of being a carer without upsetting the person their cared for.
The Carers Meetings became very popular and were always very well attended. We saw many of the same faces every month with more and more joining as time got on. Often carers would come into the practice or phone me to ask when we were holding our next meeting. I was delighted that many men attended these meetings – feedback was they really found these meetings extremely helpful – and many carers formed friendship from these meetings.
I was extremely lucky as I had some very good rep that supported our carers groups and would kindly provide us with light snacks and soft drinks – the practice would supply the tea and coffee.
At each meeting I would have someone to come and talk to the carers – every single one of these “speakers” gave out good sound advice to the carers – some even got information on benefits that they were entitled to and never knew about them.
Some of the speakers came from:
- Social Services
- Council – housing benefits
- Local Hospital – Transport Department
- Local Fire Officer
- Carers Society
- Local Catering Firm – giving advice on meals being delivered
- Some local business that delivered and gave discounts for carers of the practice
- Several charities that helped and had good sound advice carers
Every speaker came along for about an hour and all gave their services for free.
But what I did find that was very important was the fact that these carers talked to other carers – other people who understood what they were talking about – what they were going through.
One woman spoke to me after a meeting and said that she had been feeling down, she was caring for her husband and felt so very low – until she spoke to another carer who had a husband that needed far more caring than she did – she then realised that she wasn’t in fact as bad off as some carers. She told me that she stopped feeling sorry for herself and actually realised she was not as bad off as some.
I overheard another chatting to another carer and telling her that she felt so guilty that her husband had recently gone into a home. She said that she was unable to cope with him at home anymore, she admitted she was beginning to resent him for it – and when a place became available for him she remembers feeling relieved, happy and guilty all at the same time. The other carer put her arm around her and said I felt exactly the same – and have been beating myself up with the guilt ever since – I am so pleased that I have you to talk to about it. From that day on they became the best of friends and spent many afternoons together – as they both admitted after caring for someone 24/7 for so long it becomes very hard to fill in those lonely hours.
At Christmas time I would buy a couple of raffle prizes, play some music and give the carers a little treat. For some – especially the elderly this might have been the one and only “christmas” treat that they had.
Well, for me that was worth all the work and effort into getting these meetings together.
The meetings went on from strength to strength and became extremely popular with the carers of the practice.
So much I started working very closely with Social Services and would often get them along to talk and give help and advise. Our local Social Services was nominated for an award for their work with Carers – something that I was very privileged to be invited to as our work with carers at the practice.
For a little bit of work each month updating records, booking a speaker for the next meeting to asking a friendly rep to help with a bit of light lunch certainly was small fry to seeing how much it helped the carers of the practice.
I certainly did get a lot of job satisfactions from this.
They more than deserved it.