Although social care continues to be spread thin, technology is providing a lifeline for carers. Olga got vital help from the Carers UK app, Jointly, which co-ordinates a range of tasks from hospital appointments through medication regimes.
It is part of a growing field of technology developments that is being harvested for the carer.
“Almost all of us will care at some point in our lives but very few of us are prepared for it,” says Madeleine Starr, Carers UK’s Director of Business Development and Innovation. “Our research shows that carers missing out on support can result in negative health consequences. Carers often give up work and their finances also take an even bigger hit. Technology has a significant role to play in preventing these challenges facing carers.”
The charity Macmillan Cancer Support identified that the number of people caring for someone with cancer in the UK has soared from 1.1 million in 2011 to 1.5 million in 2016, and the average number of hours they spend looking after someone has risen from 15 hours to 17.5 hours.
It has devised the Electronic Holistic Needs Assessment (eHNA), a free tech tool, downloaded via a tablet or smartphone, that allows carers’ needs to be accounted. Danny Bell, Macmillan’s specialist advisor for Treatment and Recovery, says: “The eHNA also captures carer concerns, for example, if the patient has caring responsibilities or is worried about someone caring for them. The assumption is that as the eHNA improves the experiences of people living with cancer, it will have a positive impact on carers too.
“For healthcare professionals, the eHNA allows them to give people personalized support as well as providing an electronic record of the HNA and care plans. The use of user-friendly technology means easier and more efficient communication and leads to more joined up care – this is incredibly beneficial for both professionals and patients. The data provided can also be instrumental in identifying trends and local service development needs."
Breast Cancer Care, the UK charity, has also developed an app, BECCA, which helps women with breast cancer and their families move forward after treatment ends.
Recognizing the impact on carers is gathering momentum and the European Cancer Patient Coalition and the European Association Working for Carers are working with the European Union to improve conditions at both policy and practical levels. They advocate enshrining carer rights and promoting access to training, health and social support for what they estimate to be Europe’s 100 million carers.
Its White Paper on cancer carers, published in October 2017, stated: “To develop effective policy for this shift in care, policymakers must look beyond traditional healthcare pathways and employment policies and acknowledge that carers continue to provide a substantial portion of care across Europe. While people with cancer are identified through diagnosis, cancer carers often remain largely anonymous despite the fundamental role they play in the healthcare pathway. Cancer carers form an integral part in the management of this devastating disease.”