GPs urged to keep register of carers and offer double appointments

GP practices in England have been urged to maintain a register of patients who are carers and to offer support including extra appointments and support groups.

Home visit (Photo: Dean Mitchell/Getty Images)
Home visit (Photo: Dean Mitchell/Getty Images)

A ‘care for young carers’ package launched by NHS England introduces six ‘quality markers’ to help support and identify young carers in general practice.

All practices in England will be invited to take part in the voluntary scheme, which asks GPs to keep an up-to-date carers register, host carer support groups and provide ‘double appointments’ to allow GP contact with both the carer and the person they provide care for when they visit.

GP practices are also encouraged to offer priority appointments, home visits and additional mental health checks to children and young adults who perform an informal caring role for a family member.

The initiative follows research from Barnardo’s and Carers Trust that found 40% of young carers experience a mental health problem related to the pressures of juggling their caring role with their own education and health.

Care for young carers

NHS England says the measures - backed by Carers UK, Carers Trust, the CQC and the Children’s Society  - mean GP practices ‘may offer more tailored services for carers in their community, based on national proposals and assessed against six ‘quality markers’, to ensure carers in every community across the country are being offered high quality support by their local practice’.

The six ‘quality markers’ include:

  • Keeping an up-to-date carers register, to routinely offer all carers a flu vaccination, regular health check and anxiety and mental health screening;
  • Setting up an alert system to notify all GPs when a carer registers as a patient, to ensure their needs are identified and met by the whole surgery;
  • ‘Double appointments’ - carers being offered an appointment themselves to get physical and mental health checks when they come to the surgery with their cared for relative;
  • Hosting carer support groups and carer clinics in GP surgeries, so young people can get practical carer and health advice at the same time, with other carers;
  • ‘Carer awareness’ training will be included in every surgery staff induction;
  • Practices setting up systems to track patterns of appointments in young people coming to the surgery with an adult, to proactively try to identify young carers and put support in place.

Best practice

Dr Claire Fuller, GP and senior responsible officer at Surrey Heartlands ICS - the first integrated care system in the country to pilot the care for young carers package - said: ‘The quality markers offer a practice an opportunity to benchmark the support they offer to carers which in turn encourages them to be more consistent and build on best practice.

‘An example of this is that in Surrey 58 practices are now offering carers double appointments recognising this allows carers a better opportunity to address their own health concerns as well as allowing the GP to provide them with a carers prescription.’

It is estimated that up to one in five secondary school pupils provides some level of care for a parent or sibling, and many are ‘hidden’ - meaning they do not disclose their circumstances to teachers, friends, GPs or other healthcare professionals.

Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, said: ‘Unpaid carers are often able to convey a lot to professionals about the health of the person they’re looking after, but sometimes feel their role isn’t fully recognised and are unaware of the support they’re entitled to as a carer. Usually putting their own needs second, their health and wellbeing is often left at risk when they do so much to support others.'

Plans are also underway to develop ‘top tips’ for GPs in addition to the care for carers package. The tips - encouraging ‘more proactive care’ for young carers - will be designed by a group of ‘health champions’ from around the country.

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