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Nigel's surgery 44: Caring for carers

  • Organisations we regulate

Carers make a significant contribution to the health and care system.

In our report Beyond Barriers, we described how carers have pivotal roles in supporting their families and loved ones to remain independent and well. As well as providing care, unpaid carers navigate systems and coordinate care and support around the person they care for.

Who are carers?

A carer is a person of any age (including children) who provides unpaid support to a partner, relative, friend or neighbour who couldn’t cope without their help. This could be due to old age, frailty, disability, a serious health condition, mental ill health or substance misuse. Parents of children who are disabled or who have a serious health condition are also considered to be carers.

There is a difference between a carer and care professionals paid to provide care. Some carers receive statutory payments (for example Carer’s Allowance) or a direct payment for their caring role. Even when carers receive such payments, they are still considered to be carers.

Carers UK estimate that there are around 6.5 million carers in the UK, meaning carers represent 10% of the UK population. This includes around 700,000 young carers (aged 17 or below).

However carers are not always identified by their GP practice and there are a number of reasons why. One of the reasons for this is uncertainty around the definition of the term ‘carer’. Also, many carers may not readily identify themselves as a carer. Instead, they see themselves as someone’s partner, relative or friend who is simply 'doing their best' to help someone they care about. For this reason, the question 'do you look after someone?' can be a more effective opening question than 'are you a carer?'

Challenges carers experience

Carers can face a number of challenges in their caring role. For example, carers can feel unsupported if they are unclear about where to go for information to support them in their role.

Young carers may experience educational difficulties including absence and lateness, poor concentration and low attainment. Carers aged 16 and 17 are less likely to be in education, training or employment.

Some adult carers give up paid employment to provide care and may have to borrow money or use savings to cover the costs of caring. The Office for National Statistics estimates the cost of replacing unpaid carers with paid carers in the UK as £57 billion per year.

Professional guidance

NHS England advice: carers toolkit

Identify, assess and support carers’ needs, and so reduce:

  • avoidable demand on services and meet demand more appropriately
  • carer ill health and promote positive carer health and wellbeing
  • carer and family breakdown
  • unwarranted variations in carer support

The Commitment to Carers reflects what carers say is important to them:

  • recognising me as a carer
  • information is shared with me and other professionals
  • signpost information for me and help link professionals together
  • care is flexible and available when it suits me and the person for whom I care
  • recognising that I may need help both in my caring role and in maintaining my own health and well-being
  • respecting, involving and treating me as an expert in care
  • treating me with dignity and compassion

Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) resources

RCGP ‘Involving and supporting carers and their families’ provides an educational framework and learning resources for GPs and primary care teams.

Carers Trust Professionals

This set of resources is for everyone who works with carers and highlights the importance of:

Improving carer identification

  • nominating a lead person for carers
  • asking patients with long term conditions to identify their carers
  • running awareness-raising campaigns to get carers to self-identify

Improving health care

  • flu vaccination
  • screening carers regularly for depression and other health problems
  • offering flexible appointments for carers

Improving support

  • carer support groups or advice surgeries
  • surveys to gather carers’ feedback about services and their satisfaction with them
  • referrals to carers services for more specialised information, advice and support

When we inspect

We look at how effectively carers are supported when we consider the key line of enquiry C2: involving people in decisions about their care.

We may ask questions about how practices support carers:

  • carers registers
  • holistic support needs
  • in-practice support
  • appointments and access
  • information for carers
  • awareness and culture

Examples of outstanding practice: Involving people and caring for carers.

Further guidance

Further information and local support is available from the Carers Trust’s primary care team at

Last updated:
25 July 2018


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