Viewpoint: Ask carers how they are and listen - it will make a difference

There are over a million people in the UK caring for someone with cancer, writes Dr Johnny Browne, Macmillan GP adviser for Northern Ireland.

Dr Browne: 'Probably the most frustrating elements of being a carer is the waiting.'
Dr Browne: 'Probably the most frustrating elements of being a carer is the waiting.'

I was one of those for four years when my lovely wife Lynda had ovarian cancer from which she died in 2011.  What did I learn as a carer?

Above all the comparison of how in one way it is exceedingly difficult, not just to navigate the system - and if I found it hard as an experienced GP what must it be like for those with no knowledge - but also how difficult it is emotionally, physically and financially.

And in another how easy it is to be a carer for the one you love, taking on tasks you never thought you were capable of. I moved from cooking baked beans to (semi) gourmet meals (along with the obligatory porridge and steroids at 4am during some of the treatments).

I was fortunate in that my partners were very flexible. I could attend all appointments and chemo treatments and then retire early, increasing my flexibility even more while still keeping on other medical roles. This is a rare rather than common occurrence.

Cancer can put a real strain on not just the patient’s but also the carer’s occupation and with it their finances.  And what of the carer’s health?  I have a good friend who is a physician who kept in touch right through Lynda’s illness and I always noticed how at every contact, in person or by telephone he would always say: ‘And how are you doing?’, concerned that I was looking after myself.

I look back and wonder how often I asked patients in my surgery who were carers the same question.  The answer I know is not often enough.

Probably the most frustrating elements of being a carer is the waiting - mostly for appointments, tests, results and operations - and the communication failings. While most were excellent, the 2% that were poor often undid the good of the 90%.

So for all of us, don’t become semi detached from our cancer patients and their carers, ask carers how they are and listen - it will make a difference.

* Dr Browne is also is also medical director of the Belfast Trust out-of-hours service. More information on Macmillan Cancer Support’s Do you Care? campaign.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins


Already registered?

Sign in

Just published

BMA sign

BMA sets up first-ever ‘strike fund’ to support industrial action

The BMA is about to release £2m from its reserves to pay for possible ballots on...

Dozens of GPs with suicidal thoughts contact specialist service every month

A specialist mental health service for doctors is being contacted by dozens of GPs...

GP consultation

GPs demand this summer 'matched pre-pandemic winter'

General practice needs urgent support to cope with spiralling demand after appointments...

Talking General Practice

Podcast: Looking after GP mental health at a time of crisis

We speak to Dr Helen Garr, medical director of NHS Practitioner Health, about the...

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall (Photo: Pete Hill)

Government must take 'urgent action' on GP retention, says RCGP

GPs are being driven out of the profession by high levels of stress and burnout,...

GP surgery sign

GP workload far beyond pre-pandemic level as winter pressure looms

General practice delivered 26.5m appointments this August - 13.3% above the level...