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How will the Care Act support carers?

The number of people who care for a disabled or sick relative or loved one in the UK has now reached 6.5 million, but although they have been described as an ?invisible army?, the nature of the task often causes them to feel unsupported and isolated. Many carers can also feel stressed due to the lack of support, but the new Care Act will give them rights in law to have their needs assessed by their local authority and to be provided with support if this is needed. There will also be a system for appeals regarding decisions on funding and eligibility for support and care which has not been available previously.

Support for Carers

Support for carers will naturally require an increase in resources, and some people have queried whether the funds are available. However, support when it is needed can have the effect of reducing the number of more formal interventions that are more expensive, such as when an emergency situation arises, so the provisions of the Act may help to reduce health and social care costs in the long term.

Under the Care Act, people who are supported by regulated providers and whose care has been arranged by their local authority will be covered by the Human Rights Act, although those who pay for their own care will not be covered.

Councils will now be obliged to help people get independent financial advice. This has to be accessible to everyone, so simply giving online help is not appropriate. Some people will need an independent advocate in order for them to access the advice they need.

Health and social care professionals will have a part to play in identifying carers who need support and referring them to the appropriate services. It is also very important that carers who need support are able to make their voices heard and are viewed as partners in the process by the social care and health care system and that liaison between carers and professionals is supported, especially where people are being transferred between services.

The Changing Role of the Carer

Caring roles can change over time, as the needs of the person who is being cared for change. Often needs become more complex and more time is needed to provide the necessary care. People who are suffering from dementia may have different needs as their condition deteriorates, and this can make life more difficult for the carer.

Not all the aspects of the Care Act are expensive to implement. Improved access to advice and information regarding the availability of services is also very important. Provision of training for carers can also make their task easier, especially for some of the issues that commonly impact on their ability to cope, such as managing medication and dealing with challenging behaviour.

It has also become increasingly important for employers to recognise the important role that carers play. Many people with caring responsibilities are also employed, and understanding, flexibility and support from their employers can enable them to maintain their caring role.

All these aspects of the Care Act were discussed recently at a round-table event that was sponsored by Hampshire County Council. The event, which was hosted by the Guardian, gave both professionals and carers an opportunity to debate how the Care Act would affect them and how organisations such as hospitals, GP practices and councils could help with the situation.

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