More and more of the UK’s care problems are being picked up by family carers, but who cares for them? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
The government and the media and all the other movers and shakers may move shiftily and shake their heads despondently, but they come up with precious few answers. I can tell them exactly how to move forward. Government and the media and all the other movers and shakers – you just need to come and look at what’s happening in Wickham Market!
In this small Suffolk village the Wickham Market and District Family Carers group (a wonderful group of which I am proud to be a member) has created a trail-blazing solution to Britain’s growing care problem. In March, 13 volunteers from Wickham Market became the first people in the country to qualify in an innovative scheme to provide local free trained respite care to local family carers!
Why? When the villages ‘s parish council saw local services struggling to meet the care needs of an ever-increasing older population, they recognised that it would be most practical to support the people who look after this population – the family carers. They also recognised that the single most important way of supporting these people was by giving them worry-free respite from their caring role. Their unique scheme ‘Local Care for Local People’ provides a pool of trained, accredited, insured – and most importantly LOCAL – volunteer carers, to respond to the present and future needs of people looking after loved ones fulltime.
After qualification, the volunteers carry on receiving training, development and supervision. “The knock-on effect is an improvement to employment opportunities for local people in our rural area . The scheme is therefore not only helping our local family carers, its contributing to the economic health of the community,” says the dynamic and diminutive Pam Bell, too modest ever to admit she is the brains behind this idea (she is). “Each volunteer has undertaken 56 hours of training by accredited trainers, 10 hours of assessed placements in residential care homes, plus course work. It a huge investment of time and effort for them to make even before they start their volunteering role in the community. This is real commitment. From Easter 2012 we’ve been able to provide up to 100 hours per month of free support for family carers so they can take a break. Our Volunteers are qualified, insured, CRB checked and supervised and each individual Family Carer can contact the volunteer they choose directly, no agency, no waiting, no cost!”
“Family Carers are unsung heroes who, out of love, compassion, friendship, voluntarily care for another adult 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, with little or no support or opportunity to take a break. They find it hard to do all sorts of things non-carers take for granted – to go shopping, to go for a walk, to meet a friend for a coffee – even get to the doctors or cope with an unexpected injury. The idea of doing something really positive to help them – training local people to become Local Volunteer Carers – was born from their plight” says Sarah Owen Williams who is Wickham Market and District’s Carers Support Group leader.
“Almost all support groups for carers are centred on the illness of the person they are caring for. Yet the problems that all carers face are very similar. Once we’d set up a group in Wickham Market to help any local family carer, we realised that respite was the key issue for all of them. And that we could make a real difference to their lives by training a bank of local people to provide short term respite care when emergency strikes. Or just when somebody wants a little time off from it all. Why should their love and public-spiritedness give them no private time?” Pam adds.
When employed people talk about the stress of their long working weeks, they need to remember that a full-time family carer is working a 168 hour week without pay, overtime, sick leave, holiday pay or an occupational pension. You can be called on any time of the day or night. Indeed, I spent a terrifying and upsetting night in A&E ten days ago – unsure as to whether the relative I care for would survive the night (she did). It may be stressful running counties, countries or big companies – I wonder if it is any less stressful being on call for years as the permanent link between life and death for just one single other person. You certainly don’t get paid at the same rate.
And on top of everything carers are always worrying about what will happen to their loved one if they have an accident or became seriously ill. I was knocked off my bicycle three years back by a man driving on the wrong side of the road. He jumped out of the car to see if I was badly hurt.
And grazed and bruised I might be, but I had my priorities. I burst into tears and said “If you had killed me, there’d be no-one to look after my daughter!“
Nor was there. There are no carers for carers.
But now Wickham Market has made sure there are!
And if you don’t live in Wickham Market, or district? “This scheme is unique – but we would be delighted to help other communities to replicate it in other parts of the country“ says Pam.
So that’s all there is to it. Go thou and do likewise, why don’t you?