One in five unpaid carers have reluctantly taken their loved one to a hospital A&E department because it was impossible to see a district nurse or GP out of hours, and one in 10 have done so because they just didn't know where else to turn.
These are the findings of a new report from the charity Carers UK, which seeks to provide help, advice and support to the country's 6.5 million unpaid carers. As hospitals struggle to cope with the pressures placed on them, the new report claims many of the admission to A&E could be avoided if carers had better support in the community.
Entitled "Pressure Points: carers and the NHS", the report found that two-fifths of carers who have taken a loved one to A&E during the past 12 months felt their admission could have been prevented with better local support for their loved ones as patients and themselves as carers. Instead, a gradual reduction in the provision of local care and support services is contributing to a rise in A&E visits and hospital admissions, which will only increase through the winter months.
The report cites half-a-million more visits to A&E departments in the first quarter of 2016 than for the same period in 2015, claiming a major reason for the increase is simply that families now feel they have nowhere else to turn in a perceived crisis.
The report is based on data from two surveys carried out by Carers UK. The first looked at how carers used emergency services, while the second looked at the care and support available to carers after their family member is discharged from hospital.
Of the 5,000 people who responded to the first survey, just over 1,000 said they had gone to A&E or called 999 in the past 12 month because they were seriously concerned about the health of the person they cared for and felt they had no other alternative. In the second survey more than half (58%) of the carers who responded felt their loved one had been discharged too soon from hospital without the right support and care in place for them at home. In many cases (12%) this led to readmissions.
The report found that a lack of community health and care support is not only resulting in more people being admitted – or readmitted – to hospital, but it is also leading to many people having to stay in hospital for longer than necessary as they wait for an appropriate care package to be put in place enabling them to go home. These delays in discharging older patients are costing the NHS £820 million a year, according to a report from the National Audit Office earlier this year.
Heléna Herklots, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said: “The majority of care provided in England is not by doctors, nurses or care workers, but by family and friends. These carers have told us that they aren’t able access the support they need, when they need it, from community health and care services, so they are reluctantly having to turn to A&E.
“What’s more, a lack of consultation, support and information at the point their loved one is discharged from hospital means that many families are taking on a caring role in a crisis and feel unprepared. This isn’t sustainable and is leading to many people being readmitted to hospital shortly after they’ve been discharged, piling more pressure on an already stretched NHS.
“With more and more families picking up caring responsibilities, and older people with care needs being encouraged to stay at home for longer, a step-change is urgently needed to boost investment in community services and involve carers in decisions about the support they, and their loved ones, need to manage at home.”
In the wake of the report, Carers UK is calling for:
· A Carer-Friendly NHS programme, forcing the NHS to identify carers and promote their health and wellbeing, as well as policies which ensure carers are involved in decision making around hospital admissions and discharges.
· Increased funding for social care, with the Government putting in place a sustainable funding settlement for social care and ring fencing funding for carer breaks.
· Greater access to social care and health care in the community, including using new technologies for 'virtual' health consultations and access to electronic patient records.
· Greater support to better help carers look after their own health, including annual health checks for carers and free flu jabs.
In response, a spokesman from the Government's Department of Health said it was already looking at ways to make health and social care more integrated, with up to £3.5 billion in extra funding set aside for adult social care by 2019/20. He added that the Government was committed to giving everyone access to routine GP appointments at evenings and weekends by 2020.