Background: Approximately one in ten of the UK population are unpaid carers supporting a family member or friend who could not manage without their help, saving the UK economy an estimated £87 billion. This role is known to sometimes have a negative impact on carers and to require support both informally and from statutory services. General practice is a first point of contact for carers but research investigating general practitioners' (GPs') attitudes towards carers and awareness of issues facing carers is rare. This study therefore aimed to identify GPs' attitudes, awareness of issues, and perceptions of the barriers and enablers to provision of services.
Methods: Using a self-completion questionnaire distributed at a series of workshops, this study investigates GPs' attitudes to carers; awareness and knowledge of carers' issues; services offered in general practice and barriers to supporting carers.
Results: Seventy eight out of a total of 95 GPs (82% response rate) from a variety of areas in England completed the questionnaires. The GPs identified time, resources and lack of knowledge as barriers, but only 9% agreed with the statement that there is little support they can offer carers. However, nine in ten GPs (89%) feel they have insufficient training here and approximately half of them (47%) lack confidence that they are meeting carers' needs. Confidence in identifying carers is also low (45%). Issues that GPs would look out for amongst carers include emotional and physical health problems and financial and isolation difficulties. GPs specifically highlighted educational and isolation issues for young carers. Few services were described that targeted carers.
Conclusions: GPs recognise that they have an important role to play in supporting carers but would like training and support. Further investigation is needed both to determine how best to train and facilitate GPs and general practice teams in their role in supporting carers and to identify what carers need and want from general practice. Identifying carers' leads or carers' champions amongst practice staff is possibly one way forward. Given the proposed greater commissioning role for primary care, greater understanding here is particularly important.