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Carers set to share experiences at Westminster

​Older people who look after adult children receiving care from Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) will meet MPs today (22 March) to describe some of the challenges they face while raising awareness of the important role they play.
Six parents from across Norfolk and Suffolk, whose ages range from 59 to 70+, will visit the House of Commons for this afternoon’s Parliamentary reception, which has been organised by the Carers Trust.
They will travel to London alongside staff from NSFT and Suffolk Family Carers, as well as 11 other carers from around the country, to discuss the particular pressures of caring in older age, such as their own poor health, loneliness, isolation and financial difficulties. They will also highlight what type of support could help.
The event has been organised as part of the Carers Trust ‘Speak Up for Older Carers’ campaign, which saw NSFT, Suffolk Family Carers and Norfolk Carers take part in focus groups and carry out consultations with local carers to gain valuable insight and feedback.
Following this research, the Carers Trust published a report, called ‘Retirement on Hold’, which highlighted that older carers are often reluctant to come forward for support, struggle to navigate the health and care system and neglect their own health.
Mary Robertson has cared for her 38-year-old Nick since he first experienced mental health problems in 2014, and is among the carers attending the reception. She will use the event to explain more about the challenges her family have faced while looking after Nick, who has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
“Nick came to live with us when he was discharged from hospital and just about destroyed our family,” said Mrs Robertson, 63, who lives in Mildenhall and also cares for her 87-year-old disabled mother. “Nobody prepared us for what to expect and we found ourselves in a totally alien world.
“Mental healthcare needs more funding so that patients can receive more regular support when they are discharged from hospital. There should also be somewhere they can go during the day a couple of times a week so that their family can have some respite.
“When carers take on the responsibility of looking after a relative, they need some sort of coaching to help them cope. Our family has been on a very steep learning curve and at sea most of the time. A mentoring or buddy system where you could link continuously and consistently with an experienced carer would have really helped, as would matching up carers to share experiences, exchange views and vent frustrations.
“The best help and support I have had was from other carers and staff I met at the support group at Hellesden Hospital. It would be really helpful if there was someone carers could phone for advice at other times, for example when a big crisis happens or just when we need to vent our feelings for the sake of our own wellbeing.”
The 2011 census revealed that there are 1.8m carers aged 60 and over in England. In addition, estimates show that one in ten people aged over 85 provide unpaid care, while most carers aged over 70 provide more than 60 hours of unpaid care a week.
Howard Tidman, Senior Practitioner with Acute Services based at Northgate in Great Yarmouth, helped to organise the visit. He said: “We hope that the event will help to raise awareness of the important role which carers play while also highlighting some of the specific pressures which older carers face, such as financial worries, lack of support, poor health and loneliness. It will also provide an opportunity to talk about the needs of those with mental health problems, as well as gaining support for increasing funding for mental health services.
“We almost always think about carers as being younger people looking after older people, but that is not necessarily the case these days. These carers play a vital role while also helping to reduce pressure on health and social care services, so it is essential that we do what we can to support them.”
Individual carer’s constituency MPs have been invited to the reception, along with any other MPs with an interest in carers issues and health.