40% of unpaid carers ‘putting their own health at risk’ in Scotland

Two in five unpaid carers are sacrificing their own health by putting off medical treatment while they look after someone, according to a new report.

Many have delayed treatments such as cancer screening or a hernia operation as a result of their caring responsibilities. The survey found that caring had a negative impact on the health of almost nine in 10 carers (87%) in Scotland. Almost half (41%) suffered a physical injury such as back pain through caring for someone ill, frail or disabled.

Charities say the survey, launched to mark Carers Week, is further evidence of a growing care crisis. They are calling for better financial and practical support for the more than 650,000 unpaid carers in Scotland so they can look after their health and well-being.

Almost nine in 10 (87%) of those who responded to the survey said that caring for a family member or friend has had a negative impact on their mental health. Nearly two thirds (62%) blamed their poor health on a lack of practical support and 51% on not enough financial support.

Sandy Wilson, 49, from Glenrothes, Fife, has put off an endoscopy appointment to establish whether she has an ulcer. She cares full time for son Alastair, 29, who has learning difficulties and was born with a bowel problem, which has resulted in frequent hospitalisation all of his life.

She suffers from a number of stress-related health problems, including panic attacks and chest pains. She said: “At one point, my doctor gave me antidepressants, but I stopped taking the medication because I didn’t have the energy to look after Alastair.

“I was also supposed to go for an appointment for an endoscopy to check out if I’ve got an ulcer, but I put it off because I didn’t know what would happen to Alastair if I was in hospital. When you’re on your own, you just have to get on with it. But sometimes you just don’t want to get up in the mornings. I just feel like giving up sometimes.”

Carers Week is calling for sustainable social care funding, better signposting and access to support services and for regular health checks to be offered to carers. It is a consortium of eight national charities comprising Age UK, Carers Trust, Carers UK, Independent Age, Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care, MS Society and Parkinson’s UK.

Florence Burke, director for Scotland for The Princess Royal Trust for Carers in Scotland, said: “We’ll continue to work to make sure that statutory providers take account of carers and their needs and that the specialist services provided by local carers’ centres receive continued funding for the essential role they play in easing the caring journey.”

The survey questioned 322 unpaid carers in Scotland who look after a family member or friend online and via post from January to March.