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Today the Government introduced the Health and Care Bill; proposals to legislation that they state aim to make the healthcare system less bureaucratic, more accountable and more integrated following the COVID-19 pandemic.

With reference to unpaid carers, the bill would amend the National Health Service Act 2006 so public involvement does not just include those who use NHS services, but also their carers and representatives. Carers UK sees this as a positive change that will ensure carers are properly included in all patient and public involvement and consultations.

In relation to integrated care systems – partnerships set up between organisations to meet health and care needs across an area – a proposed clause in the Bill is to promote both patients’ and carers’ involvement in decisions about prevention of illness and treatment. A further clause promotes patients’ and carers’ involvement in the commissioning of services within integrated care systems. Carers UK welcomes these clauses.

The charity further welcomes updates to the official hospital discharge guidance. Carers UK previously raised the important issue that the guidance did not include carers’ rights during the process, so we are pleased these are now reflected. The guidance makes clear that the carer of a person being discharged from hospital must be consulted for their views, including that they are willing and able to care when that person is discharged. It states that a carer’s assessment should be undertaken before caring responsibilities begin if this is a new caring duty or if there are increased care needs.

Emily Holzhausen OBE, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at Carers UK, said:

“Given that unpaid carers were not initially included in the Government’s health and care white paper, we welcome these proposals that directly include carers in public consultations, decisions about prevention and treatment of illness and commissioning of health services.

"Importantly, they recognise the crucial role carers play day in, day out supporting their relatives’ health, and give carers more of the visibility they need within health legislation.

“We are pleased the hospital discharge guidance has been updated to ensure carers’ needs and ability to care are fully considered. Hospital discharge can sometimes be stressful and challenging for carers, so it is vital that they are supported not only during the process itself but in the weeks and months after it too.

“We want to see the Government go further and include a duty on the NHS to have regard to carers - promoting their health and wellbeing. The pandemic has put huge pressure on families, the majority of whom have taken on even more care, supporting our health and social care systems through the crisis.

"This Bill is a once in a decade opportunity for the Government to formally recognise the vital role played by carers supporting their relatives’ health, and ensure they aren’t overlooked but are visible and valued. Government must leave a positive legacy for carers following the pandemic that sees their role acknowledged throughout the system.”

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