The local NHS has teamed up with a Merton charity to encourage people with unpaid caring responsibilities to sign up with their GP to unlock a range of support.
Carers Support Merton is helping to spread the message that carers should let their doctor know that they are looking after someone who depends on them.
Currently, there are nearly 15,000 registered unpaid carers in south west London but many more have yet to register.
A carer is anyone who looks after a family member or friend with a disability, mental or physical illness, addiction, or who needs extra help as they grow older.
At the same time, caring responsibilities can come at a personal cost, with high blood pressure, depression and diabetes among the top health concerns.
That means it is important that people let their GP practice know they are a carer and ask if this can be added to their medical record, so they can be better supported by their doctor and the wider primary care team.
Carers are at a higher risk of becoming ill themselves and their GP can help keep them fit and well by recognising the effects caring can have on their health, such as depression, stress, high blood pressure or back pain.”
Tracy Weight, Carers Support Merton’s CEO, said: “Caring for someone can be exhausting and difficult so we are working with the NHS and encouraging all carers living in Merton to register with their GP.
“Carers are at a higher risk of becoming ill themselves and their GP can help keep them fit and well by recognising the effects caring can have on their health, such as depression, stress, high blood pressure or back pain.
“Some carers are inclined to ignore symptoms because they don’t want to contemplate becoming ill themselves when they have caring responsibilities.
“It is important that carers look after their own health and accept any treatment that they need as, ultimately, they cannot look after someone else without first looking after themselves.
“If a GP knows about people’s caring responsibilities they can offer additional support to help them to maintain their physical health and emotional wellbeing, such as offering Covid-19 booster jabs and flu vaccinations, free annual health checks and referring on to specialist services if they’re needed.
“So, if you’re a carer, please let your GP know and ask if this could be registered on your medical record. All GP practices will have a carer registration form.
“We have a template letter on our website that carers can use to inform their GP of their caring responsibilities as well as details of their contingency plan for their loved one should they be too unwell to care.”
This extra support includes Covid-19 booster vaccinations and the annual flu vaccination.
As Merton resident, Anne, explained, she had never thought of herself as a carer: “A friend mentioned that you don’t need to live with someone, or even that close, to be a carer.
“My mum is very elderly now with multiple health problems and does rely on me for a lot of things – her online shopping and admin and taking her to medical appointments.
“Carers do need to juggle a lot of different things, and if we become ill it can cause real problems – not to mention the risk of spreading illnesses to people we look after. So, I was pleased to register with my GP and get access to flu and Covid vaccines.”
Many people just see themselves as a neighbour, partner or parent, but their role as a carer is absolutely critical. We want them to know about the support they can receive to help maintain their physical, mental and social health.”
Other support offered varies between practices, but can include:
- free annual health checks
- support with your physical and mental health to enable you to carry out your caring responsibilities
- general information and advice about being a carer
- signposting to other services that could help, such as support groups, day centres and respite care for the person you look after
- flexibility with booking doctor’s appointments for you and the person you care for
- help with prescriptions, such as having them delivered to your home.
Dr Douglas Hing, Merton Clinical Lead for Ageing Well, said: “We know carers provide many invaluable hours of unpaid support for family and friends who are ill, frail, or have long-term health conditions.
“Many people just see themselves as a neighbour, partner or parent, but their role as a carer is absolutely critical. We want them to know about the support they can receive to help maintain their physical, mental and social health.”
Find out more on the Carers Support Merton website .