Carers putting themselves at risk over respite concerns, warns charity

Vitalise logoDisability charity Vitalise urges social care decision makers to take respite provision seriously

Carers’ concern about the quality of respite care is preventing them from taking up opportunities for respite breaks and putting their own health at risk, a study by national disability charity Vitalise has revealed.

In response to this week’s Carers Week survey, which highlights the financial, physical and emotional stresses faced by carers, Vitalise’s study has revealed the additional barriers that are preventing carers from accessing desperately-needed respite breaks for themselves and their loved ones.

The study, which collated the findings of research conducted by various organisations over the past five years, found that 6 out of 10 carers (57%) had feelings of worry or guilt about needing to use respite care and that concerns about the quality of the respite experience were a significant barrier.

Significantly, the study also found that 7 out of 10 carers felt that a break from caring, even for a few days, was ‘important’ or ‘very important’ and that carers want more choice and control over their respite care and short breaks.

To compound the problem, the study also found that many carers don’t see themselves as carers because they are unpaid and consequently don’t realise they are entitled to statutory support. As a consequence they are unaware that local authority funding for respite care and short breaks exists and are not taking advantage of opportunities to take vital time off from caring.

As the population ages and health and social care services are coming under increasing strain, Vitalise is backing the recommendations of the Carers Week campaign and urging social care decision makers to pay more attention to the fundamental issues of quality and choice in respite care in order to avert a worsening problem.

A previous Carers Week survey found that three quarters (74%) of unpaid carers have reached breaking point due to the pressures of their caring role. Tellingly, half of all the carers surveyed said that having a break would or did help when they were at breaking point.

There are currently 10 million people aged 65 and over in the UK and this number is set to rise to nearly 13 million within five years. Age-related disability is a major reason why the UK’s army of unpaid carers, currently numbering around 6.5 million, is increasing at a rate of 6,000 people each day. By 2037 the number of unpaid carers in the UK is expected to have soared to nine million.

Vitalise Chief Executive Chris Simmonds said:

“We completely support the Carers Week campaign for better support for carers. The problems people with disabilities and carers face in accessing essential support is already well documented, but our study reveals that there are many more people out there who don’t even know they are carers and are doubly disadvantaged as a result.

“What’s worse, many family carers have no confidence in the quality or suitability of the respite care on offer and are not taking up respite opportunities as a result. In too many cases their fears are quite justified, so it is not surprising that carers would rather struggle on at home, risking their own health in the process.

“Without the escape valve of regular time off from caring, carers risk reaching breaking point and ending up sick, depressed, and facing the very real risk of becoming disabled themselves.

“Vitalise has been supporting families affected by disability for 50 years and what we have found is that carers’ fears about respite care can be eased if the focus is on providing high quality care combined with a dignified, stimulating environment and the chance to enjoy the company of others.

“Access to regular, good quality respite breaks for people with disabilities and those who care for them should not be considered a luxury but an absolute essential in enabling families affected by disability to carry on coping.”

Vitalise is a national charity providing essential respite breaks for people with disabilities – including Alzheimer’s and dementia – and carers at three accessible UK centres in Chigwell in Essex, Southampton and Southport, with 24-hour nursing care on-call, personal support and a range of accessible excursions, activities and entertainment. The charity is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2013. Find out more about Vitalise at www.vitalise.org.uk.

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