Carers Scotland believes that carers and people who use services must be at the heart of all decisions – both strategic and on an individual level – and support, rather than being service and demand driven, must be responsive, holistic and individual.
“At its heart, health and social care integration is about ensuring that those who use services get the right care and support whatever their needs, at any point in their care journey.”
Having seamless support, that identifies carers early, anticipates rather than reacts and is delivered in the way that meets their needs, is not only vital to the person they care for, but also for the carers own health and wellbeing.
Scotland’s 759,000 carers are not just people who provide care – nor are they just a resource to be called upon – but are individuals with their own needs and aspirations, who need to keep in good health and have a life outside caring.
Research has consistently shown that caring can have a negative impact on both the physical and emotional health and wellbeing of the carer, creating health problems and contributing to the deterioration of existing illnesses.
We also know that carers often experience barriers to accessing the healthcare they need, including acute care and planning of scheduled operations. Finding time to attend routine medical and dental appointments when you are caring for someone can also be difficult.
Two out of five carers report that they have put off medical treatment – often making the problem worse or extending their illness, creating additional illness and making caring harder. For example, carers have told us of delayed diagnosis of cancer, untreated coughs turning into bronchitis, putting off operations which resulted in much poorer outcomes and delaying dental treatment necessitating tooth loss and decay. These may not have developed if carers had sought treatment sooner.
Carers are well aware that they needed to look after themselves but often find it difficult to do so. For a number of carers just finding the time to make an appointment or finding someone to look after the person they care for in order to attend the appointment can prove to be impossible.
“People who provide unpaid care are supported to look after their own health and wellbeing, including to reduce any negative impact of their caring role on their own health and wellbeing.”(National Health and Wellbeing Outcome)
This is just one area where we believe integration can make a difference and the above national outcome, which is part of a suite of outcomes that apply to integrated health and social care, will help bring clarity to where action is needed and help drive forward that change.
Of course, there are other supports that carers need – including regular breaks, time to have a life outside caring and, importantly, the right support for the person they care for. However, this one element points to an area where integration can make a difference. Planning and delivering integrated services (with carers) can ensure that the right, responsive services are available that allow carers to look after their own health and wellbeing.
How can we better plan and deliver integrated services with carers to ensure that the right, responsive services are available that allow carers to look after their own health and wellbeing?