Thousands of people across Northern Ireland provide care for others throughout the year. Carers Week is organised by several charities that come together to celebrate this contribution, signpost carers to further information and support, and encourage ‘hidden’ carers to come forward and be counted.
Carers NI sponsored a Carers Week launch event at the Linen Hall Library, which featured short speeches by Edwin Poots MLA (Minister for Health and Social Care), Kevin Daly (Carers NI Chair), Pamela McCready (Director, Transforming Your Care, HSC Board), and concluding with a personal account from comedian Tim McGarry.
The Minister for Health credited carers with improving outcomes for recipients, while underlining the Department’s support for signposting carers to available services and benefits, as well as the provision of the Direct Payments scheme (which gives carers more flexibility implementing a care package budget).
Kevin Daley thanked everyone for coming. A carer himself, he said that he truly appreciated the effort that would have been required for some to attend today.
Pamela McCready said that the Health and Social Care Board listened to the voice of the care community, exemplified by the inclusion of carers and care users on the 17 Integrated Care Partnerships (ICPs), as part of the implementation of the Government’s policy, Transforming Your Care (TYC).
With a short video, she also showcased a positive example of a Self-Directed Support scheme (akin to Direct Payments).
However, as I described my experience to Mr Daly, I cannot endorse the Direct Payment model.
The theory behind the Direct Payment scheme is that the carer can spend the allocated budget in a manner that maximises benefits to the user, e.g. purchase specialist equipment or alternative care provision.
I pursued this in my effort to secure personal assistance (versus personal care) for my spouse, as her Occupational Therapist and I agreed that such a service would expedite her recovery.
However, I got bogged down in the bureaucracy of it all. Even with the help of the Centre for Independent Living, and a round of professionally conducted recruitment interviews, we failed to appoint a personal assistant.
I was also petrified about accepting all of the liability of becoming an employer, including compliance with labour laws and having to make private provision for such aspects as statutory redundancy pay.
This is from someone who is a Chief Executive by day and serves as company director for two other organisations. How the dickens does an older person, not au fait with company law, manage this?
Thankfully, our health trust was very accommodating, and through a negotiation agreed to incorporate an element of personal assistance in a revised care plan for my wife. It made a world of difference; I credit it with having the greatest impact on her recovery.
I cannot endorse any scheme that places all of the liability on the carer.
Goodness knows carers have enough to deal with.
Instead, I would encourage senior health management officials to support flexibility within the system. In our case, a 15-minute discussion, with supporting evidence, facilitated a decision that produced the best outcome. And without me getting snarled in red tape.
Ms McCready did acknowledge the complex lives of carers, with many juggling home and professional duties.
But this begs the question of how is this reflected in current policies? For example, as I am in employment, I am ineligible for most carer’s benefits. I did feel the economic pressure to quit my job at one point, but knew that would be the worse longer-term option.
As more of us will find ourselves as carers at some point in our lives, and with ever increasing retirement ages (i.e. we’ll still be working at that unpredictable calling), we should be incentivising the ability for carers to maintain paid employment, if possible.
Tim McGarry concluded with some sincere reflections of his own experience as a carer, for both his mother and an aunt.
He quipped, “The one piece of advice I can give you if you’re going to be a carer, is to be Catholic and have a large family!”
In his case, his extended family relations enabled them to provide a 24/7 rota. This demonstrated how many billions of pounds informal networks save the NHS.
Of course, not everyone is blessed with relations. But in any case, “It’s all about how you treat people,” whether in one’s own home or a nursing home.
He gave an example of Angela, a 43-year-old woman who has required full-time care since she was born. Angela does well, thanks to the love and sacrifice of her parents, who are getting ever older themselves. It’s folks like these, said McGarry, that deserve our adulation: “Angela is loved; thankfully she was not put off to the side.”
Whether you are a carer or not, you can show your appreciation by following the work and campaigns of any of the supporting charities (Northern Ireland offices):
- Age UK @Age_UK @Age_NI
- Carers UK @CarersUK @CarersNI
- Carers Trust @CarersTrust
- Independent Age @IndependentAge
- Macmillan Cancer Support @MacmillanCancer @MacmillanNI
- Marie Curie @MarieCurieUK
- MS Society @MSSocietyUK @MSSocietyNI
- Parkinsons UK @ParkinsonsUK
- Skills for Care @SkillsforCare
- Stroke Association @TheStrokeAssoc @StrokeAssocNI