I don’t think about my own health because my priority is my husband, my job, my family, then me.”
What is the issue?
The pressures of caring can take a significant toll on carers’ physical and mental health. In the 2021 State of Caring Survey, 25% of carers say their physical health is bad or very bad and 30% of carers say their mental health is either bad or very bad. The 2011 Census found that carers providing round the clock care are more than twice as likely to be in bad health than non-carers.1 6 out of 10 carers (61%) said their physical health has worsened as a result of caring, while 7 out of 10 (72%) said they have experienced mental ill health.2 These findings are reinforced in the 2021 GP Patient Survey, which found that carers are more likely to be in poor health than the general population, with 6 in 10 (60%) of carers having a long-term condition, disability or illness compared to 50% of those who weren’t caring.
Caring can be physically demanding for example carers may need to move or lift the person they care for and any equipment they need such as wheelchairs, all while not getting sufficient sleep at night. Mental strain is often caused by being responsible for someone while dealing with their own financial or health worries and struggling to get a break from their caring role.
My mum requires around the clock care and is often up, sometimes twice, during the night so I am often tired. I suffer from backache which isn't helped by the day to day caring my mum needs.”
The health impact of caring is often made worse by carers being unable to find time for medical check-ups or treatment, with a third of carers who couldn’t get a break from caring (33%) saying they would use a break to attend their own medical appointments.3
Carers are less likely to be able to take part in the recommended levels of physical activity compared with non-carers, often because of an inability to find time or motivation to take part in activity due to their caring role4. This means carers are experiencing profound health inequalities as they do not get the mental and physical health benefits of being active.
What needs to change
I was admitted to hospital after a breakdown due to exhaustion and chronic pain. If I had had more breaks from my caring role or adequate mental health support I might not have had the breakdown at all.”
- The Government needs to ensure that there are sufficient service to support carers including having access to the breaks they need to look after their own health and wellbeing.
- The NHS needs to ensure that carers’ health and wellbeing is prioritised with specific help available to access preventative services.
- A duty should be placed on the NHS to identify carers.
- Local Government needs to ensure that carers are quickly identified and linked up with local support, especially those at risk of poor wellbeing and burnout.
- Carers need adequate financial support.
Health and Care Act 2022
With the introduction of the Health and Care Act 2022, Carers UK was pleased that new rights on hospital discharge were included. Our evidence from carers showed how devastating hospital discharge can be where carers are not consulted, involved or given the right information and support to care safely and well. Now, NHS hospital trusts in England must ensure that unpaid carers are involved as soon as feasible when plans for a patient’s discharge after treatment are being made. This covers all carers of adults needing care and support following hospital discharge, including health care support.
We are currently engaging with Chairs of Integrated Care Systems and Integrated Care Boards to make sure they are aware of the rights carers have at hospital discharge. To help inform us whether there are any gaps in the policy, we are also asking carers in this year's State of Caring survey about their experiences with hospital discharge since last year.
What Carers UK is doing
We continue to evidence the health impacts of caring through our research in order to highlight carers’ experiences and influence national and local decision making.
We work with local organisations to seek out and develop good practice which can be used by others.
We work in partnership with organisations such as Sport England, Nutricia and others in the Health and Wellbeing Alliance to ensure carers’ physical and mental health needs are considered throughout the health and social care sector.
Career or care: Women, unpaid caring and employment in Northern Ireland
Report from the Carer Poverty Commission on barriers to work for women with caring roles in Northern Ireland.