Unpaid carers facing ‘serious difficulties’ accessing NHS care, report warns

Unpaid carers and the loved ones they look after are experiencing serious difficulties accessing NHS care and their health is deteriorating as a result, research suggests.

A third of carers (34%) have been waiting more than a year for specialist treatment or an assessment, according to Carers UK.

This is having a negative impact on their mental or physical health (67%) and affecting their attendance at work (32%), the survey of more than 13,000 carers found.

Many carers also said they were experiencing considerable physical pain as a result of an untreated condition, making their caring role more difficult, the charity said.

It questioned 13,415 UK carers, including 12,424 current carers, between July 12 and September 11, for its annual State of Caring report.

It found that 31% of respondents said the loved one they care for has also been waiting longer than a year for specialist treatment or an assessment.

And one in five said their loved one’s emergency admission to hospital was avoidable, and could have been prevented with higher quality care and support in place.

Carers UK said the findings paint a bleak picture of “increasing pressure on unpaid carers as they manage worsening health, compounded by the fundamental shortage of care services meaning they cannot take a break or stay in work to generate an income”.

It is calling for unpaid carers to be prioritised in efforts to clear the backlog for treatment.

Chief executive Helen Walker (pictured) said: “Gridlock in hospitals and lengthy NHS waiting lists, combined with a perpetual shortage in care services and the cost-of-living squeeze, is forming the perfect storm for unpaid carers to collapse. They have nowhere to turn.

“The backbone of our NHS and social care systems, unpaid carers have been completely overlooked for support.

“Without it, we will only see more carers crumble and more pressure applied to our already over-stretched services.”

The charity is also calling for carer benefits to be uprated in line with inflation, and for people entitled to carer’s allowance to receive a winter top-up payment of at least £500, as has been delivered in Scotland and Wales.

Its survey found that one in four respondents believe the cost of care is too high, and 58% are worried they will not be able to afford services or practical support in future.

One in four said they were cutting back on essentials such as food or heating, and 63% said they feel extremely worried about managing their monthly costs.

Some 62% of respondents agreed that the increase in the cost of living was having a negative impact on their mental and/or physical health.

A government spokesperson said: “Carers play a vital role in our communities, and we all owe them a debt of gratitude.

“We are providing financial support to unpaid carers through £291.7 million in Better Care Funding to provide short breaks and respite services as well as additional advice and support.

“We are also providing £37 billion to support people with the cost of living, and we are making progress in tackling Covid backlogs – including by virtually eliminating two-year waits for treatment – and are making £500 million available this winter to speed up discharge from hospitals into the community.”

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