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Carers: In Sickness and in Health

Volume 738: debated on Wednesday 11 July 2012

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to address the issue of the health of carers in the light of the report In Sickness and in Health, published on 18 June.

My Lords, we welcome the report and its focus on important health issues for carers. This echoes the priority that the Government attach to supporting carers to remain physically and mentally well, as set out in the coalition Government’s carers’ strategy, Recognised, Valued and Supported: Next Steps for the Carers Strategy. The department published its draft mandate to the NHS Commissioning Board for consultation on 4 July. It includes an objective about improving the support that carers receive from the NHS.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. In view of the shocking statistics in the report—that more than 80% of carers have found their health, both physical and mental, adversely affected by caring—does the Minister consider that there is perhaps an increasing risk of carers simply ceasing to care and the cost therefore falling on social care services or resulting in increased emergency hospital admissions? How will the announcement that the noble Earl is about to make ensure that the prospects are better for the health of carers and for the continued willingness of families to go on providing the vast majority of social care?

I shall have to ask the noble Baroness to be patient for a few more minutes regarding the Statement I am about to make. However, I can tell her that the White Paper and the draft Bill will make a reality of our vision for transforming care and support both for carers and for the people they look after. As for the noble Baroness’s first point, she is absolutely right to flag this up as a concern. In the last financial year, we provided funding of almost £1 million to the Royal College of General Practitioners, Carers UK and the Carers Trust to take forward a range of initiatives, of which I am sure she will be aware, to increase awareness in primary healthcare of carers of all ages, including better training for GPs, and also to look at how we can build on that for the future with the medical colleges and nursing organisations and in hospitals and community health services. The NHS Health Check programme could be a very important ingredient in making sure that the health of carers is monitored and taken fully into account.

The Minister is aware of the great debt that we all owe to carers, particularly family carers. Can he assure me that respite care for those people, or those for whom they are caring, will be possible and will continue? It makes a very big difference if people can have even a small respite break.

My noble friend is quite right. My department has allocated an additional £400 million to the NHS over four years, 2011 to 2015, to provide carers with breaks from their caring responsibilities. The 2012-13 NHS operating framework makes it clear that PCTs, local councils and local voluntary organisations should work together on plans to support carers. Those plans have to be published by 30 September at the latest. They must make clear the amount of money to be made available to support carers and separately identify the amount to be made available for carers’ breaks.

My Lords, have the Government developed any plans to support carers after the person for whom they are caring dies? Many carers spend up to 20 years doing the caring job. Once the person for whom they are caring dies, they are stranded. They have no job to go back to. They have lost most of their friends and are totally isolated. They suffer bereavement in a different way from the rest of us and need long-term support. Are there any plans to deal with this problem?

As ever, the noble Baroness makes a really important point, and it is one that we fully recognise. In our plans to roll out psychological therapies, carers are very much within the scope of our thinking. As the noble Baroness will know, last year we published a four-year plan of action. We are investing around £400 million—the same sum of money that I referred to but additional to the other sum—in talking therapies: the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme. I am sure the noble Baroness will be glad to know that that investment is already making marked improvements, and there is a substantial increase in the number of people receiving the benefit of IAPT.

My Lords, in view of the Government’s stated intention to increase personalisation, can the Minister tell the House what happens when the expressed wishes and needs of somebody being cared for are in conflict with the expressed wishes and needs of a carer? Whose needs take precedence in that case, and how is the conflict resolved?

My Lords, when I come to make the Statement I shall have something to say about personal budgets, which will empower those who are being looked after and their carers in just the sort of circumstances to which my noble friend refers.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that in Grand Committee we are currently discussing the Local Government Finance Bill, which will reduce council tax benefit for a wide range of people, including carers. Given that he is concerned about financial support for carers, will the Minister talk to his colleagues in the DCLG to ensure that the same support which we hope will be extended to disabled people will also be extended to their carers?

Once again, this area is very much centre stage for us. Support for carers is an extremely important matter, and the noble Baroness will see that we are addressing it in the White Paper, about which I will talk shortly.

My Lords, in recognising the purpose of this report in relation to the health of carers, I ask the Government what action they are going to take, particularly with regard to the welfare and health of young people who may not formally be regarded as carers but who nevertheless undertake a vital role.

The right reverend Prelate refers to an often unseen aspect of caring. My department and the Department for Education are encouraging children’s and adult services to work much more closely together to adopt whole-family approaches to identifying and supporting young carers. We are investing in the identification and sharing of tools, resources and good practice, and we have worked with key stakeholders to develop online training modules on young carers for GPs and school staff in particular.