One day soon we could all be an unpaid carer – supporting carers is not just the right thing to do; it also makes social and financial sense

Cormac Tobin, Managing Director at LloydsPharmacy

Tonight, for the second year running, we will be recognising the great achievements of unpaid carers at the LloydsPharmacy National Carers Awards. These awards celebrate people, regardless of age, gender, job, or social standing, who selflessly give their time to help friends and family without any reward.

Having read the nominations, I know it will be an incredibly humbling and emotional night as well as deeply inspiring. The winners, and everyone nominated, deserve to not only be acknowledged and celebrated, but to be recognised as playing a huge role in our society as an unpaid carer; without their work and support I truly believe our health service, the NHS and social care, would not, and could not, exist as it does today. Without unpaid carers a vast number of people would be left without the care and attention they really need, the health and social services could not sustain the work they deliver.

Unpaid carers are estimated to save the economy £119 billion per year through the unpaid support they undertake, as noted by Carers UK. It has been over 100 days since the general election, and subsequent announcement that Jeremy Hunt would remain as the health secretary. Finally, the topic of unpaid carers is coming higher up on the agenda as Jeremy Hunt recently declared a Carer’s Strategy, led by Care Minister Alastair Burt, would be undertaken. The aim is to develop a culture where we, the public, take responsibility for the care of the elderly, whether they are family, neighbours or friends, as the NHS and local authority care provision cannot shoulder the burden alone.

With people living longer, and an already over-stretched health system, this future seems to be fast approaching reality. For the millions of us set to become carers in the not too distant future, help and support should be made readily available.

I believe that community pharmacy as a sector should be recognised as a valuable resource in this area, we could play a larger role in assisting the health and social care system, and provide carers with the support they need. In fact a survey by Carers UK (1) earlier this year already found that carers rated pharmacy as the most carer-friendly service they receive out of all community services across health, social care, work, transport and education .

We also know that 20 per cent of our customers are already caring for someone other than their child (2). Pharmacy already operates a number of medicines management services which carers find useful, but I feel there is more we could be doing and offering at the very heart of the community.

It is vitally important that carers look after their own health too, which can be difficult when juggling a range of responsibilities. Research shows that caring for others can have a major impact on a person’s physical, mental health and wellbeing. Carers are more likely to be in worse health than people who do not have any caring responsibilities. This is where I believe pharmacy can have the biggest impact, through providing health checks and support for people to stay well and look after their long term health.

This flu season pharmacy in England will be able to offer patients in the at-risk group their NHS vaccine in a community pharmacy environment. This will alleviate the pressures faced by GP surgeries over winter, provide patients with wider choice, and ultimately, if we are able to reach more people with the flu vaccine, help to relieve winter pressures on A&E departments. By identifying pharmacy as a true health provider, able to offer NHS services, could help carers by giving them another option to seek health services for their loved ones directly in the community, offering easy access, not having to make an appointment, and longer opening hours, which may compliment working hours if they have another job.

I await the outcome of the Carer’s Strategy but hope that as well as identifying the need for public support in caring for the elderly, there are recommendations on how the healthcare industry can help and support these newly appointed carers. We should all be providing support, help and advice where possible to ensure the great work carers undertake continues, and that carers now and in the future do not feel stigmatised, invisible or alone in the care they give.

Tonight the LloydsPharmacy National Carers Awards will acknowledge unpaid carers who work tirelessly and selflessly to help others. The award winners will be much more than carers; they have their own lives, including families and jobs, but commit time to help friends and family members where they need support; it is now more imperative than ever that we pay tribute to these unsung heroes.

(2) LloydsPharmacy own data as part of Who’s our Customer project