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GP surgeries have continued to provide a consistently high level of service to unpaid carers over the past year despite the pandemic, an accreditation scheme run by Carer Support Wiltshire has found.

The Wiltshire Investors in Carers GP Accreditation Scheme is now in its 10th year and sets out a number of required standards for surgeries to meet in their commitment to unpaid carers.

These standards include keeping a carers register, having a Carers Lead at the practice, having a flexible approach to appointments for carers and offering a 20 minute health check. Having these services in place and reviewed annually ensures that unpaid carers across the county are receiving consistent care and attention.

Practices can be awarded Silver, Gold/Gold Plus or Platinum, depending on the services they offer, and 17 were awarded the highest level of Platinum this year out of the 46 Practices in the county.

Clare Christopher (pictured) is the Carers Lead at Three Chequers Medical Practice in Salisbury. The Practice achieved the highest award level of Platinum this year. She said:

“We’ve been involved in the Carer Support Wiltshire accreditation since its inception. Having the accreditation process to work through is really good. It gives us a framework and keeps us on our toes.

“It’s really good for the whole practice. When we get our, hopefully, good result then we share that with the whole team and of course everyone can take pride in that. Also as part of the accreditation we have a talk from Carer Support Wiltshire every year, and that’s really useful for all of the staff, especially any new starters, because that brings carers’ issues to the forefront of their minds. It keeps it fresh and it keeps everyone up to date with what Carer Support Wiltshire can do once we can refer people onto them.”

Anne is an unpaid carer in Wiltshire. She said:

“I am very grateful to the GP accreditation scheme. I had been looking after my mother 24/7 for several years, batting away all suggestions that I was a carer. Through the scheme, my GP surgery contacted me as someone with a caring role. It was only then that it hit home.

“I came straight on board and immediately things changed for the better, both for me and for my mother. It turned out that as a carer there were services to which I had a right. To this day I doubt I would have engaged were it not for the doctor. I feel very fortunate.”

Helen Gough is Health and Communities Engagement Worker at Carer Support Wiltshire, and manages the scheme. She said:

“Despite the pressures put on GP Practices due to Covid, there have been a significant number of Practices participating in the scheme this year and achieving Gold or Platinum.

“Some Practices weren’t able to complete the necessary checklist this year to demonstrate their support but they have continued to engage with us and support unpaid carers. We have seen some Practices going above and beyond during this time. At the start of the first lockdown Carers Leads immediately recognised the likely impact of the pandemic on carers and contacted them to check on their wellbeing.

“One surgery used the vaccination programme as an opportunity to promote support to carers at the Vaccination Hub with a display set up in the waiting area. It is so pleasing to see this embedded recognition of unpaid carers and the understanding of their needs, which exists now this scheme is in its 10th year.”

The scheme has seen many achievements over those 10 years. These include the development of Carer Coffee mornings and Carer Clinics by GP Practices, sharing practice in North Dorset, which has led to a commissioned pilot scheme, and increased awareness of unpaid carers in Primary Care.