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National Carers Week: Spotlight on Oxfordshire's unknown army of carers
National Carers Week begins today and will include more than 60 events across the county until Sunday. To mark the event, Dan Robinson looks at the role of those who devote their time to looking after friends, family members and neighbours
LESS than one third of the estimated 61,000 volunteer carers in Oxfordshire get the help they need, according to the Carers Oxfordshire group that looks out for them.
The group, set up by Oxfordshire County Council three years ago to find people who don’t even realise they are a carer, says only 18,000 people who act as carers have been identified.
These are people who have to devote much of their time to look after friends and relatives who need their support, often abandoning jobs to do so.
Carers Oxfordshire head of carers support Catherine Blaxhall, pictured, said: “It’s something which can be gradual over time when someone you know gets older or it can come suddenly when there’s been an accident and you have to look after a person.
“But there are so many times I’ve talked to people who have been doing it for years and have seen the lightbulb moment when they suddenly realise they are a carer.
“If you start to undertake a role in which you wouldn’t expect in your relationship, like helping someone eat or go to the toilet, that’s when you start thinking you are providing a crucial support.
“It doesn’t make them any less of a husband, wife, brother or whatever, but it’s an acknowledgement that you are doing a bit more and there is help out there for you.”
Carers Oxfordshire provides support for unpaid carers in the county so they can continue their work, including offering peer support groups, one-to-one advice, phone service and training opportunities, including its Confidence 2 Care programme consisting of five free sessions.
Mrs Blaxhall said: “It’s about letting people know they aren’t alone because it can feel isolating when you’re a carer, so knowing you aren’t the only person out there can help.
“There is help out for them and they just need to access it.”
Nationally, Mrs Blaxhall said the work of unpaid carers saves £119bn, while the NHS spends about £97bn on providing professional carers.
She added: “They are absolutely essential because most people want to stay in their own homes for as long as possible and without the love and care they receive from family members, neighbours and friends that may not be possible.
“Without that support there would be a huge strain on costs to the welfare state to provide that care.”
But Mrs Blaxhall – who is working alongside pharmacies to help identify unpaid carers picking up prescriptions for others – said it is crucial carers don’t turn a blind eye to their own health.
She said: “It’s important they make sure their GP knows they are a carer. For instance is you are under 65 you wouldn’t be eligible for a flu vaccination but you would be if you are a carer.”
The county council has a joint carers strategy with Carers Oxfordshire and the NHS Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group.
There is a £1.5m budget for carers of adults, which includes funding for Carers Oxfordshire, grants for carers and providing advice and support services.
‘It’s a 24/7 job for us’
WITHOUT the aid of respite care, Rose Lakeman admits that her 16-year-old daughter Chelsea wouldn’t be able to stay at home.
Mrs Lakeman had to give up her job as a professional carer for elderly people to become a full-time unpaid carer as Chelsea requires round-the-clock support to stay in the family’s Sandford-on-Thames home.
Rose Lakeman with her daughter Chelsea, 16
Chelsea, a nominee for the Pride of Oxfordshire award at this year’s Oxfordshire Youth Awards, suffers from metachromatic leukodystrophy, a condition which causes progressive loss of physical and mental capability. It prevents her from walking and speaking, as well as carrying out simple tasks like eating on her own.
She also goes to Helen House hospice in Leopold Street, East Oxford, for 21 days a year, where she can use the swimming pool, take part in activities and mix with other youngsters.
The family, which relies on care benefits, also employs staff to help out but they have to cope on their own five nights a week.
Mrs Lakeman, 55, said: “It’s a 24/7 job unless we have carers in helping us.
“Without the respite care we receive we wouldn’t be able to keep her at home.
“It can get overwhelming and we have counsellors at Helen House who talk to us about the situation and give us support.”
‘I will continue as long as I can’
MANY parents invest a lot of time in their children but for John and Pauline Hutchinson they have devoted more than four decades.
Their 44-year-old son Darryl – pictured with his parents – who suffers from severe autism and learning difficulties, still lives at the family home in Abingdon and can’t be left alone.
Mr Hutchinson, 77, said: “It’s quite hard for my wife because she has to look after all his personal care. He won’t do anything for himself so we have to do everything like feeding and washing him.
“I’m getting to an age where physically I won’t be able to care for him but I will continue for as long as I possibly can. He will eventually have to move into supported living.”
Darryl goes to the Charter Day Centre five days a week and has respite care for 35 days a year.
Two years ago Mr Hutchinson was invited to meet the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall at a ceremony in St James’s Palace as a thank-you for his voluntary work for learning disability charities. This includes acting as chairman for the support group at the day centre, being chairman of South West Oxfordshire Mencap, working with the Ridgeway Partnership and running a disabled swimming club at Radley College.
Better quality of life
WHILE many people wish to stay at home for as long as possible, the day will often arrive when they must move into a care home.
Bampton’s Rosebank Care Home manager Lynn Hughes believes they have nothing to fear as living standards have improved.
Vanessa Lavender, Lynn Hughes and Amy Joyce at Rosebank
Gone are the days of elderly people sitting around watching TV all day as care homes seek to get them out into the community.
Mrs Hughes, 54, a professional carer for 34 years, said: “Care for people to live in their own homes is what is recommended for as long as possible and I’m a firm believer in that, but there does come a point when people don’t want to live in their own homes anymore, even if it’s for the social side of having people with them.
“Getting them out into the community and taking them to shops gives people a better quality of life so they have something to look forward to rather than just getting washed and sitting in a chair all day.”
‘Set realistic expectations’
CARING full-time for a loved one can be isolating, according to mum-of-three Sue Dorrington.
She has been looking after her 16-year-old son Joran Humphreys since he was born with learning and physical difficulties after contracting meningitis.
He attends the mainstream Marlborough School in Woodstock and his mum says it is important to set realistic expectations.
Mrs Dorrington, from Long Wittenham, near Abingdon, said: “It’s physically demanding.
“We have to do physiotherapy work at home and he needs a lot of extra support with his schoolwork.
“As a family we have to go through what I call mini bereavements because you have to accept that some of the goals you might have for a son and daughter, you are not going to realise.
“But it’s been a very enriching experience and we’re all more understanding and empathetic because we see his frustration and the barriers he has to overcome.”
Mrs Dorrington, a former research scientist for Oxford University’s Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, had to give up her job for Joran and struggled to return to part-time work.
She said life could be tough for the family, which includes her IT manager husband Ray and children Megan, 14, and Luke, 12, but it offered rewards.
Carers' Week: What's on:
- Information fair in Oxford’s Bonn Square from 10am to 7pm.
- Pampering session at Highlands Day Centre in Burford Road, Chipping Norton, from 6.30pm to 8pm. There will be Indian head massage, hand massage, music therapy, organic therapies, back assessments and advice on back care, mindfulness taster sessions a BBQ and seasonal food.
- Relaxation, coffee and cake session at the carers group in Kidlington Methodist Church in Oxford Road from 10.30am to noon.
- The Riverly Club in Thames View, Abingdon, will hold live entertainment with vintage singer Kitty at 3pm.
- Thinking Ahead workshop at the Mill Arts Centre in Spiceball Park Road, Banbury, from 10am to 2pm. It is aimed at family carers of people with learning disabilities who want to know how to make their relative’s long-term future secure.
- Sainsbury’s in Heyford Hill, Littlemore, will host a carers’ tea event in the cafe from 2pm-3pm.
- Didcot Health and Wellbeing Centre in Britwell Road will host a coffee and carers awareness centre with Carers Oxfordshire from 10.30am to noon.
- Carers Oxfordshire will have an information stand at Banbury market from 9am to 3pm and at the Restore mental health charity office in Cowley Road, Oxford, from noon to 6pm.
Call the Carers Oxfordshire support line on 0845 050 7666, where carers can speak to specially trained advisers about what help is available.
This could include information on access to grants, respite breaks and health assessments.