District nurses and community nurses should make sure that they assess the health of carers as well as patients, a leading district nurse has said, after ONS figures revealed that providing unpaid care has a large impact on general health.
The figures, produced using data from the 2011 census, found that women and men in England and Wales providing more than 50 hours of unpaid care each week were 2.7 and 2.4 times respectively more likely to report being in poor health than members of the general public.
The figures show that 5.8 million people in England and Wales, nearly a tenth of the population, provided unpaid care to a relative or friend. This is an increase of approximately 600,000 since 2001.
Candice Pellett, project manager at the QNI and an experienced district nurse, said: 'District nurses must take in the needs of carers, as well as the patients. If appropriate, nurses should provide the carer with their own health plan. Community nurses should also remember that signposting carers to organisations that provide support and healthcare to them is an important part of their role.'
The figures also show a disparity between genders in the level of unpaid care provided. In 2011, 11.8% of the female population of England provided unpaid care, compared with 8.9% of the male population. This disparity increased with the age of the carers. Women aged between 50 and 64 represented nearly a quarter of all carers, while males in the same age group made up 17% of those providing unpaid care.
Ms Pellett added: 'The health of the carer is just as important as the health of the patient. If a carer is unable to provide support to the person that they are looking after, the patient may have to be admitted to a care home or be more reliant on other health providers.'
The QNI has released resources for district, practice and school nurses to improve the understanding of the health needs of carers.