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Help carers to better look after their own health, GPs advised

Carers make up one in 10 GP visits but don’t always get the support needed

Caroline White

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

GPs need to take a more proactive approach with patients who are carers, because they are at increased risk of psychological and physical ill health, says the Royal College of General Practitioners.

The College has published a guide today to help family doctors more effectively spot and manage these patients who make up one in 10 GP visits. Carers are at particular risk of ill health as a result of their caring duties, but often neglect their own wellbeing, says the College.

Up to 40% of will experience stress or depression while caring for a relative, partner, or friend, says the College. Providing high levels of care is associated with a 23% higher risk of stroke, and older carers who report “strain”’ have a 63% higher probability of death over the next 12 months than non-carers or carers not reporting strain, it says.

First produced in 2006, the guide has been comprehensively revised and updated to provide GPs with the latest information and knowledge they need to deliver the best possible support to carers in their caring role and ensure that the individual health and wellbeing needs of both patient and carer are met.

The new-look guide highlights the physical, psychological and other effects of caring that GPs and their teams can look out for, along with specific sections on life after caring, and how to identify and meet the health needs of young carers.

It provides advice and templates for developing GP practice action plans and signposts resources offered by other organisations and agencies, as well as useful information on latest government policy and the Carers’ Strategy 2011-2015.

RCGP Chair Dr Clare Gerada said that GPs worked hard to develop and improve their services for carers. But she added: "Carers often neglect their own healthcare needs and in many cases it is only a matter of time before they become ill. Most people visit their GP surgery, either for their own health or while looking after the person they care for, so we can play a crucial role in identifying patients with caring responsibilities at an early stage.

We can also encourage them to look after their own health and ensure that they receive the right support to stay healthy, maintain a life of their own, and continue caring.”

Liz Fenton, CEO of The Princess Royal Trust for Carers, which worked with the College on the guide, said that GPs were ideally placed to spot the hundreds of thousands of carers across the country who currently go unsupported.

“Through some easy steps, practices can help to ensure that carers are signposted to local support and have their own health needs addressed, and also are fully involved in care planning for their relative or friend, as they are often an expert source of information.

This will not only improve their quality of life but also means they are better able to provide care, bringing positive benefits to carers, patients, and GPs alike,” she said.

An estimated 1.2 million carers spend over 50 hours a week caring for others, saving the UK economy £87 billion a year in care costs—equivalent to £15,260 a year for every carer in the UK.

Supporting Carers: An action guide for general practitioners and their teams

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