Support for unpaid carers programme is shortlisted for national award

Ben Fox
Ben Fox

A pioneering new project that supports unpaid carers has been heralded nationally and is shortlisted for a prestigious care award.

It involves dedicated staff from Devon Carers, a service commissioned by Devon County Council and NHS Devon CCG, working closely with hospital teams to identify situations where carers are involved, and where support for those carers is needed for patients to return home safely, or prevent hospital admissions.

First piloted at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, the Carers Hospital Service is now also running in North Devon and Torbay Hospitals.

There are an estimated 130,000 people in Devon who are looking after family members, neighbours or friends. Devon Carers, which is run by Exminster-based Westbank, support around 20,000 carers. While support for carers is available, reaching them has always been difficult because people’s caring roles are often not identified.

So the authorities and Devon Carers started working within hospitals and as patients came forward and their situations were assessed, it was possible to see whether they had anyone looking after them, such as a family member, at home.

Sometimes people are unable to leave hospital because the person who is caring for them at home has become unable to cope. It might be because the patient’s care needs have grown worse and the carer doesn’t know what to do, or the carer could be unwell themselves, or simply exhausted from providing round the clock care.

Having identified where there are carers involved, the Carers Hospital Service team works with them to understand what is happening and to see where support would help them. This might avoid a hospital admission or help get the person home more quickly.

The results have shown significant improvements. By supporting carers, they are more able to look after themselves as well as caring for their loved one, neighbour or friend. In turn, this is preventing further hospital admissions and reducing the length of time that patients are in hospital because they are able to return home sooner.

Between April 2019 and the end of October this year, 2,193 carers have been helped by the Carers Hospital Service, 1,740 of these were previously not known to Devon Carers.

One carer said: “The cleaning and food delivery has meant that I am able to go back to work, whilst mum recuperates and dad is looked after. Thank you so much, I was finding it so difficult to cope. I would like to say a huge thank you for all the help that you have given to both my parents and myself over the past months. I don’t know I would have managed to cope with this whole caring process and trying to work as well. It’s very much appreciated, and you seem to have gone beyond the call of duty.”

The Carers Hospital Service has been shortlisted for the Support for Carers category of this year’s prestigious Health Service Journal Awards.

Councillor Andrew Leadbetter, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member with responsibility adult social care and health, said: “Many of us in life find ourselves at some point looking after a family member or a friend who needs care and support, and that’s to be expected. Why wouldn’t we?

‘Often though, it can become all-consuming, and the impact that it has on our lives can be significant if the impact is not recognised.

‘Through this pilot we have seen how sometimes even a little support can go a very long way in helping a person cope with caring for their mum or dad, husband or wife, or someone else.

‘The effect that has on the carer is enormous in terms of reducing their anxiety, stress levels and to some extent any feelings of guilt they
may feel should they find themselves no longer able to cope. I am delighted that our pilot in Devon has been recognised nationally, and is shortlisted for one of the most prestigious care awards in the country, the Health Service Journal Awards.”

Billy Hartstein, Head of Devon Carers, said: “We are thrilled that Devon Carers Hospital Service has been nominated for a Health Service Journal Award in recognition of the hard and diligent work of Simon Rapsey, Tracy Duckmanton and all the Hospital Service Team.

‘Our integrated approach to developing this service has resulted in this innovative project to support unpaid carers. We continually review and adapt the services we offer to ensure we meet the needs of unpaid carers and who they care for, providing the right help when they need it most. We hope that as the needs of unpaid carers continue to change, we respond quickly by developing new areas of work.”

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