Background: General practices in the United Kingdom are encouraged to have a protocol for the identification of carers and a mechanism for social care referral. However, a minority of carers are identified and those caring for someone with a terminal illness often cope until the situation becomes overwhelming. Earlier identification could enable more timely support.
The aim of this project was to model and pilot a systematic approach to identify, assess and support carers of people with supportive and palliative care needs in primary care.
Method: The intervention was modelled on the Medical Research Council complex intervention framework with a preliminary theoretical phase, which has been reported elsewhere. In this study, which lasted 12 months, four general practices were recruited. Each practice identified a ‘carer liaison’ person to take the lead in identifying carers, followed by assessment and support using a toolkit modelled from the earlier phase. Qualitative evaluation interviews were conducted with carers who had received the intervention and the carer liaisons and general practitioners in the pilot practices. A stakeholder event was held to disseminate and deliberate the findings.
Results: The practices’ populations ranged from 5840 to 10832 patients and across the four practices, 83 carers were identified. Thirty six carers were identified from practice registers (disease - 16; palliative care - 9; carer - 11; advanced care plan - 12), whilst 28 were identified opportunistically by practice staff at appointments or at home. Seven carers self-identified. Overall, 81 carers received the carer pack and 25 returned the Carer Support Needs Assessment Tool (CSNAT) form. Eleven carers received a follow up call from the practice to discuss support and 12 were also referred/signposted for support. Qualitative interviews suggest carers valued connection with their practices but the paperwork in the toolkit was onerous.
Conclusion: This approach to identifying and supporting carers was acceptable, but success was dependent on engagement within the whole practice. Carers did not tend to self-identify, nor ask for help. Practices need to proactively identify carers using existing opportunities, resources and computer systems, and also adopt a public health approach to raise carer awareness and perceived support within their communities.