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By Debbie le Quesne

Yes, it is time to support ‘unofficial’ carers

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This weekend there’s been much news on the 7 million or so volunteer carers who look after loved-ones.

Life cameos have been screened on the telly and we’ve seen stories of the toll on health of unbridled selflessness.

These are the unsung heroes and heroines who plug the gaps between official care packages in the community, sometimes taking the responsibility with no structured support at all.

The Royal College of General Practitioners has warned that, in caring for other, they often neglect their own wellbeing.

And now it is calling for routine screening of these carers for depression. I believe this is a huge hidden problem.

Dr Clare Gerada, RCGP chairwoman, told BBC Breakfast: “Carers often neglect their own healthcare needs and in many cases it is only a matter of time before they themselves become ill. They are at risk physically and emotionally with stress-related illnesses but it can be hard for them to admit that they are struggling.

“Unfortunately at the moment as with the rest of the health service, GPs are heaving under the workload and what this report is saying is that we have to target resources where they are most needed and they are most needed with carers.”

I have witnessed first-hand the toll of caring with my own parents and what Dr Gerada said were this “critical asset” should be protected. Are they at present? Frankly, no.

Unofficial care saves Governments some £119bn a year and it’s about more as social care is stripped of funding.

Quite rightly, the doctor said: “If carers fall ill you lose two patients. You lose the person they are caring for and also the carer so it makes financial sense to keep carers well.”

The RCGP has drawn up a nine-point checklist as part of new online guidance which also includes appointing a carers’ “champion” in all GP surgeries.

It is also seeking an audit system to measure improvements in carer support.

With a siege mentality gripping the care sector, indeed the volunteers are critical to the wellbeing of our most vulnerable.

I’m sure none are seeking praise or reward, but they do need a good advocate and are worthy of a sensible response.

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