Background The General Household Survey 2000 shows that approximately 6.8 million adults in Britain provide care to sick or disabled relatives or friends, or the elderly. Carers report high levels of stress, anxiety and depression, as well as general health problems and physical injuries such as strained backs associated with lifting. The more demanding care, the less likely it is that carers will have time to attend to their own health care needs. Current government policy puts an emphasis on supporting carers in their caring role, and ensuring that the NHS and social services helps them maintain their health. The intention that carers obtain quality health care services is not necessarily realised in practice. Many carers feel marginalised by health care professionals and believe that their own needs for health care are overlooked. Consequently, it is important to identify the barriers that prevent carers from accessing, and utilising, effective health care services, as well as interventions that can improve accessibility.
Objectives of the study The overall aim of the work was to inform the NHS Service Delivery and Organisation (SDO) R & D Programme about the theory and evidence on carers’ access to health care. The two key objectives were: • to examine the evidence from UK and international research (published and unpublished) in order to identify: – the problems and barriers that carers experience in accessing health care services, and any associated issues relating to equity of access and level of unmet need – evidence of interventions designed to improve carers’ access to health care services, and how these vary according to age and circumstances • to consult with key stakeholders with an interest in carers’ access to health care about the findings from the review and recommendations for further research. The following report documents key themes from the literature review and consultation. In addition, it presents a typology of barriers that carers encounter when accessing health care, and develops a model of access to health care specifically for carers. Detailed information about the interventions reviewed can be found in the supplementary report: Access to Health Care for Carers: Intervention Evaluations.