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As Covid-19 cases are beginning to rise, including in care homes, a new report from Healthwatch Gloucestershire highlights how the pandemic has created additional challenges for those who care for some of our most vulnerable people, either as paid or unpaid carers.

The report also identifies how people have found positives in the face of adversity, to help themselves and those they care for, adapt and cope with some of these challenges.

As part of their recent work to explore the impact of Covid-19 on the delivery of local health and social care services, Healthwatch Gloucestershire identified carers as a group who were likely to be significantly affected.

To understand the impact of coronavirus on carers, they held online focus groups and one-to-one interviews.  They spoke with 20 unpaid carers, including young carers, and four paid carers from a local care provider who look after clients with complex care needs in their own homes.

Several key themes emerged:

  • The lack of health and care services has been challenging.
  • With many services becoming remote or moving online, digital exclusion was keenly felt by some people as a barrier to accessing care and support.
  • An over-reliance on the carer by loved ones and professionals was a concern.
  • A sense of community and mutual support is highly valued.
  • Life online, including virtual appointments, has helped some people.
  • An appreciation of friendship, nature, and a slower pace of life has come to the fore.

Concerns raised by paid carers:

  • Feelings of anxiety and pressure made it difficult to cope, including concerns about spreading infection.
  • Lack of care staff and very long shifts (some staff were shielding or unable to work).
  • Delayed medication reviews for clients by the GP.
  • Difficulties getting Covid-19 tests initially (the carers had latterly had fortnightly tests but have realised that they are being taxed on these).
  • Concerns over PPE, with incorrect face masks, lack of gloves, and full PPE only available when caring for confirmed Covid-19 cases, but testing was not available.

Positives for paid carers:

  • There was more online training which saved travelling time.
  • Less traffic on the roads made work journeys easier.
  • The reduction in fuel prices was a bonus as community carers spend a lot of money on petrol.
  • The camaraderie between carers has forged friendships and brought them closer.

Helen Webb, Healthwatch Gloucestershire Manager, said: “Caring for people who are sick or vulnerable can be hugely challenging and isolating, even in normal circumstances.  It quickly became clear that Covid-19 introduced additional pressures on care staff and unpaid carers.  For example, the lack of PPE and testing, many regular health and care services were suspended, such as respite care and specialist health care, and lockdown imposed even greater social isolation and disruption to normal routines.

“Our new report presents valuable insight into how people’s caring roles, paid and unpaid, have been impacted by the virus.  We will share our findings with Gloucestershire NHS providers, the Clinical Commissioning Group and other local health and social care providers, to help them learn from carers’ experiences so that they can provide better support going forward.”

Read the full report: Care during Covid-19: A carers perspective

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