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Dr Ninian Hewitt has used a postal survey to screen his patients and identify carers with unmet needs.

One in 10 of his patients identified themselves as carers, yet none of them were known to social services.

Dr Hewitt, a GP in Edinburgh, said practices were often seen as the first port of call for people who were struggling with their caring duties.

'As a GP I was surprised that carers saw the primary care team as a focal point because we deal with illness. Delivering a social agenda is quite difficult for GPs.'

Dr Hewitt is putting together information packs to help GPs identify carers and give them advice. He said GPs should ask elderly patients if they were carers and get receptionists to create a register.

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