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CPD: Supporting unpaid carers

Learning Objectives – This module will enable you to review: 

  • The impact of Covid-19 on unpaid carers
  • Supporting their mental health and physical health
  • Helping them to support the person they care for
  • Changes that could be made in the practice

Dr Anish Kotecha is a GP partner in Cwmbran, South Wales

The emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic has certainly placed a spotlight on the role of carers. It is useful to differentiate carers into those who do it for their career, and those who don’t. This second group can also be split into those who are recognised as ‘official’ carers and therefore more likely to receive benefits and allowances, and those who might be family members, such as a wife caring for her husband with dementia, who are unpaid. 

This article is predominantly aimed at providing practical and pragmatic guidance for GPs on improving support to those unpaid carers of the latter group, because they are likely to be under-recognised and lacking in financial and/or emotional support. 

There are huge numbers of people in this group, and their health is affected.

The caring role can be fairly diverse, but common tasks include helping the individual with cleaning and shopping; assisting with their mobility or by giving medication; aiding them with washing and dressing; offering childcare; keeping them company or taking them out or to appointments; helping with financial matters; and dealing with external care services.

Although the role can be highly personally rewarding and satisfying, as well as saving the NHS huge amounts of resources such as time and money, many carers will not be prepared for their role. Even if they are, the stresses related to caring can be persistent and sometimes unpredictable. These people will often visit the GP for the person they care for, but overlook and neglect their own needs.

According to NHS England, unpaid carers who provide high levels of care for sick, or disabled relatives and friends are more than twice as likely to suffer from poor health compared to people without caring responsibilities.2

In addition, caring can adversely affect relationships and the ability to participate in activities. So, we GPs and our teams need to ensure that we include some questions around carers’ physical, mental and emotional needs so that we sufficiently attend to them as well. 

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