Compounded by cost-of-living crisis and lack of health and social care, Carers Wales warns of irreversible and devastating impact on thousands of unpaid carers in Wales.
Two fifths of carers have been waiting more than a year for NHS assessment or treatment, with three quarters seeing their health decline while waiting.
Nearly a third of carers report their loved one’s emergency admission to hospital was avoidable.
Unpaid carers are propping up health and social care, but without the support or help to do so.
Unpaid carers and the older, ill and disabled people they care for are facing a bleak winter in Wales, as difficulties getting NHS treatment and social care is eroding their ability to provide care, new findings by charity Carers Wales show.
Two in five carers (41%) have been waiting more than a year for specialist treatment or an assessment – with a similar proportion, 43%, saying the person they care for has also been waiting for more than a year.
Three quarters of carers (76%) waiting for treatment say it is having a negative impact on their mental or physical health – with many left in pain and unable to carry out their caring role.
“In pain most of the time therefore not enough sleep and impatient with my husband [Carer – State of Caring in Wales 2022].”
On discharge from hospital, half of carers (48%) felt that NHS staff did not provide them with the information, advice and support they needed to care well and safely, putting their own health and wellbeing at risk.
“I dread going to bed as we have had to call the ambulance four times through the night. We are still waiting for my husband to receive priority referral for suspected seizures. The last episode resulted in significant memory loss [Carer – State of Caring in Wales 2022].”
The rising costs of care services is worrying carers, with a quarter (24%) saying the cost of care is too high and nearly two-thirds (62%) worried they won’t be able to afford services or practical support in the future.
Concerningly, these figures are notably worse than the UK average.
The additional pressure on unpaid carers in Wales is emphasised by a quarter (24%) of carers reporting their physical health and a third (34%) rating their mental health as bad or very bad. Nearly a third of carers (32%) said they often or always feel lonely.
“I have run out of energy to chase up my own postponed specialist assessments and treatment and can’t face the barriers and battle to ask my GP for help [Carer – State of Caring in Wales 2022].”
Seeing the will and determination of unpaid carers, the vital third pillar of health and social care, ebb away at a time when both other pillars are already in crisis presents, according to the charity, a significant possibility of an unprecedented failure of care in Wales.
Claire Morgan, Carers Wales Director, said:
Gridlock in hospitals, lengthy NHS waiting times and a complete lack of social care has intensified the responsibilities and pressures being placed on unpaid carers. Add in the biting cost-of-living crisis and the vital, and much over relied on, service unpaid carers give Wales is close to collapse.
It is now at the point, where these pressures are having an irreversible and devastating impact on unpaid carers’ mental and physical health. Their lives will be forever impacted by the trauma of this experience.
Immediate and significant action must be taken to provide support and resources to ease the burden being placed on unpaid carers. This includes putting in place support structures so unpaid carers are given the skills, and support, they need to support their loved ones.
The Welsh Government must provide additional financial support to carers and must urge the NHS and Local Authorities to intensify efforts to identify carers and provide them with the information and services they need to care effectively and safely.
Without fast and concerted action, unpaid carers will no longer be able to provide care this winter and the bedrock that supports the health and social care system in Wales will crumble away and with it the hopes and dreams of a massive swathe of unpaid carers’.
Carers Wales is urging Welsh Government to recognise unpaid carers as a group at heightened risk of poverty and prioritise them accordingly in anti-poverty policy making, ensure future financial support reaches carers who are unable to claim Carer’s Allowance and to repeat the Wales Fuel Support Scheme in early 2023.
Carers Wales is further calling on the Welsh Government to prioritise carers and social care when allocating additional funding from the UK Government as a result of the Autumn Statement, and for Health Boards and Social Services departments to review and improve the quality of information and support they offer to carers.