We must not forget those everyday heroes, the unpaid carers

28th January 2021 about a 4 minute read
"The professionals are doing a fabulous job but they are facing burnout. So the last thing we want to do is add to their workload."

This week we’ve seen much media coverage of the UK reaching the grim milestone of 100,000 COVID-19 related deaths.  Amid this tragedy, the efforts and sacrifice (including the ultimate sacrifice) of NHS and social care professionals has been widely reported.

For some time during this pandemic, commentators, analysts and the public have raised questions about the effect on access to routine and elective care of ‘protecting the NHS’ during Covid-19.

Understandably, the focus of that debate has been around the NHS and how it will cope with the backlog, as well as how we as a society understand the tragedy of the potential ‘hidden cost’ of this situation on lives.

“Tsunami of need”

However, in parallel, the British Association of Social Workers has opened up a debate on the challenges for social care in a survey report published this week that referred to a “tsunami of need”.

It highlights fears among social workers that demand will increase even more once restrictions start to be lifted.

This is certainly a matter of great concern. But what about the extra strains COVID is placing on unpaid carers?

According to Carers UK as many as one in eight adults (around 6.5 million people) are acting as unpaid carers.

The organisation highlighted the impact of COVID on carers in a report in October last year Caring Behind Closed Doors: Six Months On

It found that four in five unpaid carers were providing more care than before lockdown.

And more than three quarters of carers reported that the needs of the person they cared for had increased since the start of the pandemic.

No doubt the situation has worsened since the report’s publication.

Forgotten army

At Future Care Capital back in 2019 we commissioned YouGov to conduct a UK-wide research project identifying gaps in support for unpaid carers in our publication: A Forgotten Army: Coping as a Carer

At the time, in their own words, this was how some unpaid carers described how they felt – ‘a forgotten army’.

Last year when the public stood on their doorsteps for the weekly ‘Clap for Carers’, thoughts were focused on NHS, social care and other frontline staff and key workers. But I’m not sure much thought was given to unpaid carers.

This huge group of everyday heroes is invisible and yet they continue to prop up large parts of the formal care system through their love and goodwill.

We probably all know someone, perhaps a friend, a neighbour or an elderly relative, who is an unpaid carer.

Stress and strain

I know I do and I see at first-hand how their life is being affected by the stress and strain of the situation.

This is often exacerbated for unpaid carers who, themselves, cannot access routine NHS services at this time due to some of the understandable restrictions caused by the situation.

In September the Social Care Institute for Excellence published Beyond COVID: New thinking on the future of adult social care looking at how services are going to get going again post-COVID.

Then last week an article in the BMJ set out a vision of how the pandemic could open up opportunities to accelerate NHS reform.

But for me it’s crucial that the sheer number of unpaid carers are kept in mind by policy makers. If many of this group find that their care needs become more complex, due to not being able to access routine services, this will end up placing further pressure on NHS and social care professionals.

These professionals are doing a fabulous job but they are facing burnout so the last thing we want to do is add to their workload.