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How your doctor can help

Many of the 6 million carers in the UK are not known by their GP to be carers. It is important for family doctors to know who carers are so they can offer them access to health services and sources of information.

Kate Groucutt, previously the public affairs officer for Carers UK, says: "Given that carers often suffer ill health as a result of their caring responsibilities, it's important that carers let their GP know that they are looking after someone. GPs can be a valuable source of support for carers. They have a good knowledge of local services and support organisations, and may also provide other services such as regular health checks and free flu jabs."

Why your GP should know you are a carer

One in five households contains a carer. This could be a child taking care of disabled parents or an older person taking care of a partner. If you are a carer you shouldn’t assume that your GP automatically knows your situation or understands how the care you give affects your own life. But your GP can support you once they do know.

Dr Helena McKeown, a GP and member of the Standing Commission on Carers, says the first thing a GP would do would be to refer you to social services for an assessment, which every carer is entitled to by law.

"Knowing you are a carer helps a doctor understand your health needs and may help you access GP services more easily," she says. "Many carers don’t realise they are carers so the first thing to do is discuss your role," she adds.

What help should you get from your GP?

"Once they know you are a carer, the GP surgery can make sure they consider your specific needs," says Dr Nigel Sparrow, the author of a national carers guide for doctors.

“You might have constraints on your time, for example, you might not be able to come in for an early morning appointment,” he says. If you cannot leave the house, a home visit can be arranged.

“We would also make sure you have alternative arrangements in place for if you become ill. These will help protect the person you're caring for.”

Carers are at a much higher risk of becoming ill themselves and may have chronic conditions that interfere with their ability to look after someone. Because of this, routine health checks for carers are being set up across England. In the meantime, all carers can try to stay healthy by getting a free annual flu jab.

The GP can help to keep carers fit and well. Dr Sparrow says: “There’s no harm in coming in once or twice a year to talk about the role and how you’re feeling.”

“We can look at the effects caring can have on a person’s health, such as depression and back pain.”

You can ask your GP if you're unsure about aspects of a treatment or medical procedure planned for the person you look after, including a hospital appointment or surgery. GPs can also offer advice on the skills you need as a carer, perhaps showing you how to change a dressing or give medication.

Lastly, but importantly, GPs can direct you to local sources of information and support. This can be anything from leaflets in the practice to putting you in touch with carers networks.

“We have a patient participation group in my practice, where we run events such as healthy living evenings,” says Dr McKeown. 

Your GP can also advise you on sorting out benefits and getting respite care from the local authority, issues which you needn't be afraid to ask about.

For more information, check out the Royal College of GPs patients' guides to GP services.

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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

jmd100 said on 26 May 2010

As a carer of more than 15 years, I can tell you that you will get lots of information - I have many copies of Carers handbooks, but you will be lucky to get any real practical help!!

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alanaccordion said on 06 February 2010

As a new comer to caring ( in this case for my wife) the first question I am asked is If I have enough information!

Not knowing all about the area and the hazards or likelihoods, means one is not really in a position to assess the "enoughness". Maybe there is not information or leaflets on assessing this aspect.

It's back to knowing what questions to ask or what answers are available.

When you know all about it then it becomes a simple matter to tick the boxes.

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Page last reviewed: 19/08/2013

Next review due: 19/08/2015

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