One of the key ways that we improve services for carers is to raise awareness – of who carers are, the issues they have to cope with on a day-to-day basis, and what changes practitioners can make to make carers’ lives easier. Here is a taster of some of the work that we’ve been involved with recently.
Working in hospitals
We work in the 3 hospitals in Bristol, with a small team of three carer liaison workers. We’ve worked hard with the North Bristol Trust to get carer awareness training included in their staff training. This includes giving a presentation to all new starters – sometimes to as many as 100 staff in a lecture hall – as well as to all new volunteers.
In addition, we work on wards, giving training and encouraging discussion in small groups. This way, we can really get to know some of the staff and encourage them to think about how they can support carers.
With both NHS Trusts we input into the training for medics, and we are making progress with student nurse training too.
We try to draw a picture of what life can be like for carers. For example, Sam Radford, one of our team, will talk about what she did that morning before coming to work – getting up regularly at 5.30am to care for her brother. We also show short film clips made by young carers – talking about their experiences of being in hospital, supporting the person they care for.
Being able to share real experiences helps staff recognise what they can do to support carers; and how important it is to share information and refer carers to help. As a result of our work, staff gain a better understanding of carers’ issues, are more likely to talk with understanding to carers on wards, and to refer carers to one of our team for support.
Often, carers’ feedback can instigate change for the better. For example, P cares for her mother who has dementia and she was worried about the treatment her mum had received at the eye clinic; and she wanted to attend the next clinic session with her. With our input, the carer was welcomed to attend the clinic session at the next appointment and the outpatients manager rang to discuss this with her.
Another positive outcome was that we went on to work with both the hospital dementia team and the Eye Hospital to deliver staff training. The training, to 5 different groups of staff, was well received and, as a result, we hope to roll it out to all out-patients departments during 2019. We are also running a carer surgery in the Eye Hospital for the first time, which we hope to repeat if it’s successful.
Health professionals’ seminar
In November 2018, we delivered a seminar for primary healthcare professionals, to improve their support to young carers. We outlined the critical role young carers have in supporting the health of those they care for, the impact this has on their own health and what health professionals can do to support them better. 12 healthcare professionals attended and two young carers gave accounts of their experiences in GP practices.
Young carers often tell us that health professionals do not adequately involve them and they are not listened to. They do not want to be treated as victims or as ‘just kids’. They want to be respected for the role they play and the knowledge they have of the person they care for. Professionals who attended the seminar said:
“The two young people spoke so eloquently and were very inspiring, humbling and thought provoking.”
“It’s all about educating all staff within the practice to be carer aware and young carer aware.”
“I’ve learnt to identify carers more subtly because they may not identify themselves.”
In addition to seminars like this, Carers Support Centre routinely offers carer awareness training to all GP practices in Bristol and South Gloucestershire.
Working with emergency departments
For someone with a learning disability and/or autism, going into hospital for emergency treatment can be an upsetting and frightening experience. We have been working with staff in the Emergency Departments at both Southmead and Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI) to make visits for these patients as easy as possible.
We arranged a visit for carers to both hospitals and they spent time suggesting ways which patients can be seen that reduces their anxiety and fear.
The outcome has been really positive, and we’ve now got an agreed action plan with the Trusts. For example, going forward, staff will be more proactive about asking carers for the patient’s hospital passport, so that carers do not have to keep repeating the same patient history. And, where possible, staff will make a separate room available for patients who become anxious. We have also agreed to produce a joint information leaflet explaining what support is available when they go into hospital; so that carers will know what they can ask for.
Supporting carers’ direct engagement
We believe that no training is more powerful than hearing from people with lived experience. So, we were delighted to be involved in University of Bristol’s medical student training in November last year, in which 7 carers took part.
This was an amazing opportunity to ensure that future doctors and consultants are made aware of carers’ issues and needs early on in their career. We are grateful to Healthwatch Bristol for facilitating this. There were two training days and one of these focussed on the needs of BAME communities.
It was a long and tiring day for the carers, who told their story six times throughout the day to different groups, but it certainly seems their hard work and openness was really valued. And the carers told us they found it empowering and validating to have their stories heard and understood. It had a big impact on the students with as many as 270 taking part. Medical students told us:
“It was really moving to hear these stories… it highlighted the impact caring has on the individual’s life.”
“I felt particularly moved by the story of her struggles. I felt I understood them and want to help.”
Dr Joseph Hartland, Public and Patient Engagement Lead, Medical Education, at Bristol University, said: “It was fantastic to hear voices that have been underrepresented in the medical curriculum speak clearly about their lives. Students were engaged and interacted in a way we could not have achieved through a lecture. They left understanding the diverse nature of carers’ experiences, struggles and an appreciation for the amazing work carers do. I was very proud to be part of the day”.
If you would be interested in taking part in future training of medical students, or awareness raising sessions in the community, please contact Caroline McAleese, Carers Engagement & Involvement Lead: 0117 958 9989
This article appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Carers News. Read more news for local carers: download Carers News.