The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has been awarded more than £380,000* from the Department of Health to develop a unique online information 'hub' to help GPs improve the support and services they provide for carers.
The hub will collate all the information GPs, primary healthcare staff, practice teams, commissioners and Health & Wellbeing Board representatives might need to identify and support carers, bringing together RCGP resources as well as signposting to external resources. Health professionals will be able to use it free of charge.
The hub will have information about the needs of carers, right from the initial diagnosis through to the end of the condition or even end of life, with a focus on depression. It will also offer guidance about what questions to ask carers, what rights they have and what support is available. The aim is to link a range of supplementary resources on disease specific conditions including dementia, end of life care, cancer and mental health.
Carers are a hidden healthcare army in the UK. Current estimates suggest that 12% of all adults are carers.
The RCGP Supporting Carers in General Practice programme has been running for several years and aims to ensure that carers get access to the resources and help that they need.
The Department of Health grant will also continue to pay for up to ten regional GP Champions for Carers who will aim to change the culture around identifying carers in primary care by engaging with practices, practice networks, Vocational Training Schemes, CCGs, Health and Wellbeing Boards and commissioners in their allocated regions. The GP Champions will work alongside Carers Trust Expert Practitioners and Carers UK's Carer Ambassadors.
Dr Sachin Gupta, RCGP's clinical lead for the project, said: "There are estimated to be over six million carers in the UK, many of whom are not getting the help or access to resources which they need. I am excited about the RCGP Supporting Carers in General Practice programme, which will go some way to increasing the identification of carers at an earlier stage, ensuring that they are fully supported from the outset."
Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb said: "GPs and their staff are often the main point of contact for patients and the people who care for them, so it's really important that they recognise and understand the impact of caring on carers. Initiatives like this provide healthcare professionals with information and advice on how best to identify and support carers so they do not have to shoulder their caring responsibilities alone.
"More and more people are becoming carers and we want to create a fairer society where people are properly supported in this vital role. That's why we're legislating to give carers new rights in the Care Bill so that, for the first time, they will have a legal right to support for their eligible needs, putting them on the same legal footing as the people they care for."
One carer whose life has been transformed by the support she receives from her GP surgery is Elizabeth Hoggarth, aged 77, who cares full-time for her 81 year old husband Allen who has osteoarthritis. They live in Pudsey, West Yorkshire.
Kathleen said: "I can't speak highly enough of my GP surgery for the care and support they give me and my husband all year round. We get the appointments we need, even at short notice, and they invite us for regular health checks.
"There's also a special carers group that meets every two weeks which gives me the chance to ask questions to the practice staff. It's a huge comfort knowing they are there to give advice. It's also a great opportunity to meet other carers in the same boat and to share our experiences. It really is these little things that make all the difference to take some of the strain away from the pressures of caring full-time. I hope that the excellent services that we receive can be replicated across the whole country."
Two new interactive and innovative e-learning courses to help GPs to identify and support carers were developed using last year's Department of Health Carers grant and have now been officially launched by RCGP as part of its Online Learning Environment. The courses, which have been written by GPs, are free for all healthcare professionals.
Supporting Carers in General Practice builds on the existing Supporting Carers action guide produced by the RCGP in collaboration with the Carers' Trust. It targets GPs and other community healthcare professionals, exploring how to involve carers in decision making in order to prevent unnecessary admissions to hospitals and residential care homes.
A second e-learning course, Taking Action to Support Carers in Practice Teams, focuses on four key areas: Problems faced by carers; Identifying carers; Supporting carers; Implementing a practice action plan.
Those who successfully complete either of the courses will receive an e-Certificate which can be added to their CPD log to help them meet their requirements for revalidation.