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Understanding the everyday experience of unpaid carers in Essex


Carers play a vital role in supporting people who are frail, ill or disabled, but, in doing so, carers often become vulnerable themselves.

With 10% of local Healthwatch working on this issue last year, we look at just one example of how local Healthwatch is working to find out if carers could be better supported.

We spoke to Healthwatch Essex to find out more.

What made you investigate this issue?

There are an estimated 145,000 people in Essex who provide care for a family member or friend on a daily basis.

Carers play a vital role in supporting people who are frail, ill or disabled, but, in doing so, carers can become vulnerable themselves and overlook their own needs.

We wanted to find out more about the everyday experiences of unpaid carers experiences.

What did people tell you?

Through audio diaries, interviews and focus groups we worked to understand the everyday experience of unpaid carers.

People told us they often feel guilty, isolated and powerless in their caring role. Carers tend to prioritise the needs of those they care for over their own health and care needs.

One carer told us ‘You really do give up your own life once you become a full-time carer.”

People told us that the formal support systems available to them are often difficult to access and inconsistent. They also felt that their expertise and knowledge about the needs of the person they cared for was often not considered by health professionals.  

When we spoke to young carers, they told us that they felt that their caring duties made it more difficult for them to socialise, complete school work and find quiet and calm places in the home. 

They wanted to be listened to so that others truly understood their needs and how they could be supported.

What happened as a result?

We produced a series of recommendations for improving existing support and developing new services.

Three key recommendations:

  • Support for carers should be personalised and targeted – what is helpful for some carers may not be helpful for others.
  • Professionals should recognise the carer’s knowledge of the person they are caring for conditions and needs. They should be viewed as partners in care.
  • There should be an increased provision of young carer groups that offer a safe, relaxed environment away from home. Raising awareness about the demands of being a young carer may also reduce the stigma many young carers experience.

We shared our findings and our video with Chief Executives, Directors and Senior Managers at Clinical Commissioning Groups, who are responsible for planning and delivering health and care services, as well as health and care providers across Essex. These include hospitals, mental health Trusts (SEPT and NEP) and Essex County Council.

Those that have responded have all been positive about the usefulness of our recommendations and said that they will incorporate our findings and recommendations into their future work for carers.

In the coming months, we will follow up to see how and if things have improved for carers.

Read Healthwatch Essex’s report on Carers

Do you want to help improve local health and care services?

Contact your local Healthwatch and find out how.

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