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“Carer is a small word to describe so many things”

Last week was Carers Week, a week that makes ‘caring visible and valued’. Kate Wells, our Lead for Welfare Support, shares how it really got her thinking…

“Almost all of our patients have someone in their lives who ‘cares’ for them

It’s with thanks to Esther, our Carers Lead, that we’re much more aware of carers and the support they provide to our patients. Sometimes just being recognised for what you do makes you feel valued and respected.

It often feels like carers are part of our team. They give us updates, report on their loved one’s medication and symptoms, and let us know when things are changing. But doing all of this can also feel a real pressure for carers as most are not medically trained and never expected to be in this position

Just today I met a patient who’s being cared for by a friend from the building trade. He now needs a lot more help and it’s all so foreign to his carer who is doing the best he can around the clock.

And during each lockdown I’ve written a few letters for carers to have in their bags, saying they have caring responsibilities in case they’re asked why they’re leaving their homes so often, or going with someone to the pharmacy or supermarket.

Identifying someone as a carer opens up a lot of support for them

By asking each patient we’re working with ‘who supports you?’ it allows us to reach out to their carer, ask how they are and find out what is important to them personally. It’s as simple as asking that one question!

We can then signpost a carer to different support, including external services like Carers Support West Sussex or Action for Carers Surrey, depending on their individual needs. Through those services, people can get practical support, access carers’ health support, arrange carer ID cards and much more.

Supporting carers emotionally is so important

Although they’re usually busy with practical stresses, behind that they’re facing the loss of someone they really care about.

Being able to talk to any of us about the stress of caring, their worries, and how it feels to be looking after someone as they die can be a relief for them and provide them much needed support. We can all ask how someone is and listen as they tell us

If things are really stressful, or someone is really struggling with feeling overwhelmed emotionally, low or anxious, they can be referred through to our Wellbeing Team for counselling. If we’re able to support people prior to a death, it can have a positive impact on their bereavement.

But what if people don’t see themselves as a ‘carer’?

Most people we work alongside wouldn’t identify themselves as a ‘carer’ but say it’s just what they do for someone they care about.

Sometimes people feel identifying themselves as a carer takes away the intimacy of their relationship. A loved one’s illness does that too, we hear people allude to it when they say things like, ‘I’m not her partner now, I’m more like her carer’.

Carer is a small word to describe so many things

That’s how I explain it to people. Carer also means friend, lover, partner, husband, wife, son, daughter, niece, nephew, cook, personal shopper, dietician, nurse, doctor, pharmacist, confidante, chaplain, finance manager, personal assistant, cleaner, administrator, cheerleader, activities manager, laundromat, driver and so much more. The more we can recognise what carers do for their loved ones, the more they feel valued and listened to.

Young people can be carers too

They are often the last people we want to think about as being carers for our patients. But a lot of children and young people I’ve worked with over the years love being seen as having a role in their adults’ life as they often need to have ways to help.

Whenever I get to know a family I check if the children or young people in their life ‘do things’ to help around the house – maybe prompt medication, help with cooking, or go with their adult to appointments. If they do, then I can refer them to the young carers service in their area. This enables them to meet other young people who are in the same position they are.

I recently got to know a family where the young daughter was at home a lot, keeping a eye on her Dad. She would check on him when he was sleeping and was present at a lot of visits from us professionals. Her eyes lit up when I mentioned joining Surrey Young Carers – she loved that she was really important to her Dad’s care.

A recent personal experience has given me insight into how hard it is balancing caring for someone with your own work and home life.

So many of us already are, or will find ourselves during our lifetime, as a carer

So, I will say to you all, as I say to all our patient’s loved ones, you must look after yourself before you can look after someone else.”

Contacts for Carer support:

Support we can offer carers

Carers Support West Sussex

West Sussex Young Carers

TuVida

Crossroads (Surrey)

Action for Carers Surrey

Surrey Young Carers

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