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Politicians must recognise carers

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Carers needs support like patients Carers need just as much support as patients

The election frenzy has started. The main political parties have presented their manifestos and there is a pressing need to understand the implications of the health policies within their proposals for reform and change.

Whatever party or coalition of parties is in government after 8 May, they will need to address the health and social care needs of the growing older population. This must be a central concern for all political parties.

With more people requiring care at home, there is also an opportunity for politicians to recognise the contribution made by family and friends who provide 'unsalaried care'.

The latter term was one which has been adopted by Macmillan Cancer Care recently. It perfectly describes the position of six million carers in the UK who support their loved ones to remain at home. Carers can be children too – there are estimated to be 166,000 young carers in England alone – and both young and adult carers have needs specific to their individual circumstances. As health professionals, we are in a unique position to help.

Often, when the carers are not our patients, there is concern about how far we can intervene and help with their own health and social care needs. Yet, we also know that the health of our patients is dependent on the good health and wellbeing of their unsalaried carers.

It was this concern – and the confidence that nurses working in primary and community care are well-positioned to help carers – that led the DH to commission the QNI to create new resources for nurses that would enable them to support carers as effectively as possible.

We have created three media-rich online resources for district nurses, practice nurses and school nurses to help them support carers. We have also supported 200 nurses to become 'Carers Champions'. These are nurses working in primary and community care who now advocate for carers, share their knowledge and innovative skills with other colleagues, and treat the needs of unsalaried carers as a priority in their work.

A celebration and learning event for carers is taking place on 9 March in London. The new online resources will be formally launched and carers will share their experiences with nurses. The event is free to attend and places can be booked at: www.qni.org.uk.

Crystal Oldman, chief executive, Queen's Nursing Institute

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