Improving the health and well-being of unpaid carers – initiatives with impact
How RCNi’s Commitment to Carers award nominees have shared their work and inspired others
NHS England’s Long Term Plan sets out clear ambitions for how the NHS can improve the health and well-being of unpaid carers.
Reflecting on past finalists’ submissions for the Commitment to Carers Award at the annual RCNi Nurse Awards, I feel optimistic about the effect nurses continue to have on the lives of carers.
Using creativity and leadership
The award is sponsored by NHS England, to recognise nurses who go the extra mile to consider the needs of carers.
This will be the fifth year we have sponsored the award, and we have continued to see creativity, innovation and most importantly leadership from the nominees, who have grasped the issues that affect unpaid carers and decided to make a difference.
There are around 7 million carers in the UK, about 5.5 million of whom are in England – and these figures are expected to increase by 60% by 2030.
We know that carers experience poorer health than their non-carer peers. Carers are more likely to develop long-term conditions such as high blood pressure, asthma or musculoskeletal problems.
They have a significantly higher incidence of mental health problems and greater social isolation, and are less likely to have thought about how to manage their own care.
Engaging with carers to improve their well-being
The most important element of the work put forward in the Commitment to Carers category is that for the most part these are not short-term projects.
They have identified new ways of working that enable nurses to collaborate with carers to improve their health and well-being.
‘Changing the culture, rather than securing significant financial support, has been the key to our winners’ success’
The award winners to date have been diverse – a bereavement nurse working across a group of hospitals and community settings within a coroner’s jurisdiction, an acute trust nurse and a team working in community mental health, whose submission was led by their healthcare assistant.
Without exception our winners have talked about how changing the culture, rather than securing significant financial support, has been the key to their success.
They have found innovative ways to engage with carers, to enable them to talk about the things that matter to them, and to help them realise that investing in their own health and well-being is as important as supporting the person they care for.
The Long Term Plan has placed increased emphasis on the need to better identify and support unpaid carers.
The plan highlights work that is developing in primary care – focusing on vulnerable, often excluded, communities, better contingency planning to avoid carer breakdown and crisis, and improving the experience of young carers.
The difference nurses make to carers’ lives
One of the best things about being a nurse is seeing just how much we as a profession can do to make a difference, and the brilliant thing is that you don’t have to be the person in charge to be a leader.
As a carer myself, looking after my elderly mum and my daughter, who has a complex mental health condition, I know that a good conversation with the nursing teams who care for them has a huge effect on my own well-being.
We know that more people will be taking on caring roles in the future. Indeed, the number of unpaid carers is growing at a faster rate than the population as a whole.
It is estimated that the economic value of these carers to our health and care systems is £132 billion a year, so they are a resource we depend on, not just for the time they give in caring but also for their expertise and knowledge about the people they care for.
Sharing work that is supporting these people is crucial - and nothing inspires others as much as a good idea.
Jen Kenward is experience of care lead, community, primary and integrated care, NHS England
The Commitment to Carers Award is sponsored by NHS England
This article was updated in July 2020