Becoming an unpaid carer for a loved one or close friend is a role many people selflessly take on — often with little concern for their own health, well-being or rights.
However, those who find themselves in that position have been given a major helping hand to ensure they are better and more consistently supported.
New legislation passed by the Scottish Government on April 1 ensures carers can now be identified earlier and that such roles and the impact they can have on the lives of those involved are more widely recognised.
The definition of a carer has been extended under the Carers (Scotland) Act, with the removal of the requirement for ‘substantial caring on a regular basis’, meaning more people will be able to access support.
An unpaid carer is someone who takes responsibility for a person who may be affected by a disability, physical or mental health issues, frailty or substance misuse, among other conditions.
An estimated 788,000 Scots currently look after a relative or friend experiencing such difficulties. Within that bracket, there are around 44,000 carers under the age of 18.
In the Falkirk district, it is estimated there are more than 15,000 carers, over 1000 of whom are classed as young carers.
The new guidelines, which have been drawn up by politicians, carers and carer-facing organisations, mean carers now have the right to be offered, or to request, a personalised Adult Carer Support Plan (ACSP) or Young Carer Statement (YCS).
The ACSP and YCS documents are accessible to all carers, regardless of the type, regularity or number of hours involved in their role.
Designed with a person-centred approach, the plans detail which outcomes a carer wants to achieve, as well as the support they feel will be needed to be able to do so successfully.
The act also ensures carers are involved in any decisions about what happens when the person they look after is discharged from hospital.
NHS Forth Valley and Falkirk Council will work together to prepare carer strategies and set out plans for identifying and supporting these individuals.
Other key features of the act include carers being involved in emergency planning if they feel unable to carry out their duties and greater acknowledgement of the benefits of short breaks for those who look after loved ones and friends.
The new legislation has been welcomed by Falkirk and Clackmannanshire Carers Centre, which currently supports 2362 adult carers and more than 200 carers under the age of 18 across the Falkirk district.
Agnes McMillan, centre manager, said: “Many people in a caring role do not recognise that they are a carer.
“Locally, the carers centre can offer information and support and we would encourage anyone who thinks they may be a carer to get in touch with staff at the centre.
“We welcome the introduction of the new Carers Act and hope it helps to continue to raise awareness of the needs of carers across Falkirk.”
The Carers Act has already begun helping a number of individuals and families who have been supported by the Falkirk and Clackmannanshire Carers Centre.
Bill and his wife Jean, who has dementia, are one such example.
After the diagnosis, Bill chose to take care of his partner at home with help from his family.
However, he encountered a stumbling block when Jean suffered a fall and was taken to hospital.
In the past year, Bill has had to give up his work and his social life to concentrate on his wife’s needs.
During that time, his own health started to deteriorate and he became worried he would struggle to cope when Jean returned home from hospital.
Bill then made an appointment with his GP and, under the new Carers Act, was able to access an ACSP.
Following a referral by his GP, the carers centre then took on responsibility for developing the plan with Bill.
The new legislation also meant Bill was fully involved in the hospital discharge process prior to Jean returning home, ensuring the needs of both were considered.
The ACSP identified that Bill had eligible needs which could be met by the local authority, such as increased support for his wife to reduce his stress and anxiety.
Bill can also access other information and advice services in the region and has been attending a carers group to speak with others in a similar position to his own.
Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald is confident the new legislation will prove a success.
He said: “The act provides carers with important rights and support so that their own health and well-being is looked after and they are involved in decisions about the person they care for.
“These changes mean that NHS Forth Valley and Falkirk Council will have to do all they can to identify and support carers in Falkirk district.
“I believe this legislation to be an important measure in ensuring that carers in Falkirk district get the help that they need. I look forward to seeing this being the success we all expect it to be.”
For more information about the Carers Act, contact the Falkirk and Clackmannanshire Carers Centre on 01324 611510. Alternatively, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.centralcarers.co.uk.