Outgoing Chief Executive, Catharine Hurford asks what’s changed for carers during her time here at CSW.

Autumn 2018 heralds major change for me personally and professionally as I move on from Carer Support Wiltshire (CSW) after five and a half years.

Change has been a constant: I had not been in post for two weeks before I travelled around the county to meet (rather cross) carers to explain why four carers’ voice groups were being merged into one county-wide Carer Involvement Group.  (It has since found its feet and flourished).  The aftermath of the 2011 merger of the four precursor carer organisations has been a key theme during my tenure.

But more broadly how have things changed for carers in those 5  years?  Back in the day carers were fighting for access to and funding for adequate services for their loved ones – be that specialist mental health support, care packages for their disabled children; fighting for diagnosis for conditions such autism spectrum disorders or ADHD; fighting for care packages or continuing health care funding.   Carers were demanding greater recognition as equal experts in care for their loved ones and seeking help and support from their GPs.  They wanted greater recognition and improved financial support, including from the benefits system which prevents older carers, for instance, from claiming Carers Allowance once they start receiving the state pension.

Well, what’s changed?  Some good news in terms of greater recognition and understanding of the important role carers play as equal care partners by many in the health care profession.  GPs certainly in Wiltshire have really upped their game in supporting carers as is seen by the increase in the highest level awards in the annual GP Investors in Carers.  There is wider recognition by the public and by health and care professionals of autism and other behavioural disorders and its impact on family life.  So far so good and helped by the Care Act 2014, introduced in 2015, which put carers on an equal footing with the cared-for person.  A huge reinforcement of their importance to the wider health and care economy and indeed our society more widely.  But then the Act failed to deliver on the cap on care costs which impoverish so many families.

Access to services has not only remained tough but has worsened with austerity, an ageing population living longer with more years of ill health and the budgetary pressures on local authorities and health services.

Parity of support remains partial: talk to any parent carer and you hear of the pressures of trying to find and fund services for their disabled child.  The Children and Families Act 2014 was supposed to align with the Care Act but the reality is that many parents do not feel adequately supported by services.  Likewise, young carers have slipped under the radar for so long and it is just now, three years after the introduction of the Acts, that in Wiltshire the local authority is bringing together Adult Social Care with Children and Families into one directorate and has commissioned an all-age carers service.  On paper this looks positive, but of the experience of other local authorities is anything to go by, the shift is massive and requires sustained commitment to see it through.

The interdependence within the wider system of local voluntary and community groups with the statutory services is better understood by those with power, but many still seek to look in from outside and pass judgement without fully understanding the nature and the work of the agencies they pass comment on so publicly.

These days, the change of the seasons into Autumn seems less about nature’s spectacle but rather on the frantic rush to get the vulnerable in our population – and the people who look after them – immunized and prepared for the inevitable winter pressures.  Already this Autumn, to the best of my knowledge, one hospital has experienced an OPEL 4 alert – where the hospital is unable to discharge patients due to the shortage of social care in the community.  There are not enough staff across health and social care – a known and persistent issue which has featured throughout my tenure and one set to worsen as we move towards Brexit.

In the meantime, charities like CSW, have cast off the some of the shackles that have bound them in recent years – and once again found their raison d’etre – speaking up for those in society who find it hard to be heard and garner support for the less fortunate from wider society.

As I bow out, yet another attempt to get to grip with the Social Care funding crisis is due to be published later this Autumn.   The stars do not feel particularly well aligned.

But I wish to end on a note of optimism.  Within Wiltshire there is a shared vision and commitment to support carers in health, care, the military and workplaces and it has been my utmost honour to work within a charity with staff, volunteers and trustees all committed to improving carers’ lives. But above all I have been bowled over by the love, warmth compassion and sheer grit many carers have shown in supporting their loved ones lead the fullest possible life.  And with such solid foundations, our communities will become stronger.

Best wishes to you all.

Catharine Hurford