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A new study by Healthwatch Gloucestershire has found that unpaid carers of people with mental health conditions are not getting enough support from health and community services in Gloucestershire.

Healthwatch Gloucestershire, the county’s independent health and social care champion, carried out the study to find out about the experiences of people who care for those with mental health conditions.  This research follows a broader study conducted last year into mental health services across Gloucestershire.

Four main areas for improvement are highlighted in the report, published today.

  • More professional, specialist support is needed for carers, to be delivered through carers support groups, with clear and consistent signposting to accurate information.
  • Easier access to information and advice for carers (noticeboards at GP surgeries and pharmacies were suggested by carers).
  • Greater understanding and communication between carers and mental health care professionals, in the NHS and voluntary and community sector services, about what information can be shared with the carer about the person they are caring for.
  • Carers are unsure how the `carers’ assessment` is used and what impact this will have on their support needs.

To gather the views and experiences of unpaid carers, Healthwatch Gloucestershire conducted a survey, visited carer support groups and a range of other related groups and engagement events across the county.

A common theme raised by carers was that often help was not offered until crisis point was reached.  The majority of people who completed the online survey (42%) had waited for more than six months to receive support, and 21% had waited between 3-6 months.  Carers also felt there was a difference in waiting times for services, which could have a negative impact on the mental health of the person they cared for.

One carer commented: “It was only when things got really bad that we got a small bit of help, but I wish we could have had help earlier on as it would have saved lots of heartache.”

Carers also felt that accessing professional support or advice for themselves was particularly hard and noted that they often struggle to maintain their own health and wellbeing while supporting others.  They also felt that the person they were caring for did not receive as much professional support because they had an unpaid carer, and they felt they were not listened to or included in treatment plans for the person they cared for, even though a lack of good support services meant that the responsibility for implementing treatment plans was left to them.

Another carer commented: “After discharge you are left to dangle a bit.  The medication and care plan are in place, but as a carer you then have the responsibility to enact the plan and to manage the medication and to take over from a hospital full of experts.”

Suzie Compton, Healthwatch Gloucestershire Engagement Officer, said: “Caring for someone with mental health problems is really tough.  It is clear from our survey and from talking to carers across Gloucestershire, that without proper support from specialists and professionals, the wellbeing of patients and carers is jeopardised.  I’d like to thank the carers who shared their stories with us.  Their voices are seldom heard, but they work tirelessly every day to look after their loved ones.  We will use this report to give them a voice.  We will share our findings with those who commission and provide mental health support services, in the health sector and in the community, and we are calling on them to listen and learn from the experiences of these carers to bring about positive change.”

Carers told Healthwatch Gloucestershire that mental health support services were better when they were able to speak to the same member of staff each time, as this helped build trust and rapport, and reduced the need to repeat themselves.  Carers felt more supported, when the professional knew their situation and was able to offer more person-centred support.  One carer commented: “Over the years he has tried to get help, but it takes so long for appointments and he never seems to see the same person twice and, as his illness makes life incredibly hard, he loses heart before he is able to access any long term support.”

Carers can access free support services by contacting Gloucestershire Carers Hub, who provide on behalf of Gloucestershire County Council and NHS Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group.

The full report, Experience of mental health services in Gloucestershire – a carer’s perspective, will be shared with key partners and Healthwatch Gloucestershire will present the findings at the Gloucestershire Health and Wellbeing Board and Mental Health Partnership Board.  The complete research findings have been shared with NHS Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning group, so that they can use the views of local people to inform the development of mental health services in Gloucestershire.