Matt Pearce talks to Karen Butler, Carers Service Manager for Hafal Crossroads in Pembrokeshire, who manages Pembrokeshire Carers Information and Support Service (PCISS), Pathways and the Hospital Discharge Project.
Tell us a bit more about the vital support your services provide to carers in Pembrokeshire?
All our services are focused on unpaid carers and the information and support we can provide to them is based on what is available in Pembrokeshire. By contacting our service we can offer a carer’s recognition card, carer’s emergency card, information about support services that will help someone in their caring role, and the Carers’ Gazette. We also have an Outreach Service which provides an assessment via our outreach workers to access support in the county. And of course, we provide a listening ear.
We also run a weekly carers group through our Pathway project which has just started meeting again in the garden of our office. Our Hospital Discharge Project is designed to improve carers’ experience of their loved ones’ discharge from hospital, and raise awareness of the issues facing unpaid carers among hospital staff.
Carers Week is an important date in your calendar. Tell us more about what the week means to you and the carers you work with?
Carers week is an annual campaign to raise awareness of caring and it is a very important date in our calendar, along with Carers Rights Day in November.
As we all know, caring does not just start and finish on Carers Week, but it is our way of highlighting the challenges unpaid carers face and recognising the contribution they make to our society. In Pembrokeshire over 12% of the population have caring responsibilities and the role they play is invaluable.
This year, as indeed last year, due to Covid-19, we have had to think of different ways we can run activities during Carers Week. We would normally have organised a buffet lunch and pamper spa session in a local hotel for our carers, and as you can probably imagine this was very popular! Due to government guidelines this was not to be, so as providers we have had to think outside the box and come up with other suggestions. Instead, to celebrate, we are putting on a range of free activities that will hopefully whet the appetite of carers. These activities will be widely promoted by ourselves, Third Sector providers, Hywel Dda University Health Board and Pembrokeshire County Council.
What do you think have been the biggest challenges facing carers during the pandemic?
One of the biggest challenges was that our local day services, such as our Day Centres, had to close during the lockdown. These Centres provide a much-needed break for carers and when these closed, carers had no break from their caring role. Fortunately, we are able to provide a respite service at home which is such a help for carers.
If carers are working and living with the person they care for, during lockdown, some have been teaching their children from home, working from home and caring for elderly parents who are very poorly!
Also, protecting the safety of loved ones has been a challenge. I am a carer and care for my elderly mum who cannot manage without our daily support. We obviously take precautions and thankfully we have all had the vaccine, but we are terrified that she will catch the virus from us.
Carers are at the end of their tether and are physically and mentally exhausted.
Do you think carers will be more valued following the pandemic?
I hope so. I think this pandemic may have raised the profile of unpaid carers and the challenges that they face.
In Pembrokeshire we are trying to make sure carers have a voice. As providers we are coming together through forums, strategy groups and networking to think of opportunities for carers to have a voice in shaping services.As a county we are networking more and aim to put carers at the centre to be more valued.
The theme of this year’s Carers Week is ‘Make Caring Visible and Valued’. What do you think are the key ways that this could be achieved?
In Pembrokeshire we are working together as providers of services for carers to raise awareness. The key ways we are trying to achieve this is through networking, sharing information, carers groups and forums.
We often talk about hidden carers and how we can reach out to them. As this year’s theme is ‘Making Caring Visible and Valued’, hopefully people who do not think of themselves as having caring responsibilities will be encouraged to identify as carers and see our activities and access support.
The recent vaccination programme for carers certainly increased the number of referrals into our service which was great as these carers might not have come forward otherwise. The Welsh Government released a round of funding for carers and this also encouraged people to come forward. All these initiatives raise awareness and hopefully encourage carers to feel valued and visible.
Many carers feel isolated and unsupported in their role, which has an impact on their wellbeing. What would be your advice to them?
Please don’t be afraid to ask for help. I understand first-hand how difficult it can be to talk to family and friends about your caring role, they may be too close to you and might find it hard to comprehend what you are going through. Plus, you may not want to burden them with your problems.
We are a listening ear for carers, sometimes it is easier to talk to a stranger who is a professional and will just listen and offer support and not judge. As staff we understand and will listen.
I appreciate how difficult it can be to make that first move, to reach out for support. As one carer said to me: “I was too scared to ask for help and open up Pandora’s Box but I am so glad I did! I didn’t realise there was so much help out there.”
For more information on Hafal Crossroads carers’ services in Pembrokeshire call 01437 611002, email email@example.com, or visit: hafal.org/in-your-area/pembrokeshire