Unofficial carers in Scotland ‘soar by 40,000’ in five years

Number of carers soar by 40,000, Macmillan study finds
Number of carers soar by 40,000, Macmillan study finds
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THE number of people caring for a friend or family member with cancer has increased by more than 40,000 in the last five years, according to a survey.

Macmillan Cancer Support is worried about a lack of support for unofficial carers, some of whom take on the equivalent of a second job to look after loved ones.

The estimated number of unofficial carers in Scotland is almost 125,000, compared with 83,000 in 2011, the charity said.

The type of support ranges from giving medication and changing dressings to cooking and looking after finances.

Macmillan said family and friends spend an average of 17.5 hours a week looking after a loved one with cancer, while a quarter of unofficial carers spend more than 35 hours, the equivalent of a full time job, looking after someone.

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The charity’s Scotland director Elspeth Atkinson said: “We are going to see a continuing rise in the number of people caring for friends and family due to the increasing rate of people being diagnosed with cancer.

“It is therefore essential we have support in place for cancer carers so they can continue to look after loved ones without being overwhelmed or left to cope alone.

“Carers are often required to administer medicine so we need to make sure they’re supported in this if needed.

“Caring also includes practical tasks and responsibilities such as organising regular trips to hospital, taking on housework like cooking, cleaning and shopping, and providing emotional support.

“All this in addition to working, maybe looking after children and trying to remain positive, means they are often under incredible physical and emotional strain that can put their own health at risk.

“Being a carer can be very stressful and it’s essential that help and advice is there when it’s needed so carers can continue to look after their family member or friend.

“That’s why Macmillan is urging Scotland’s new health and social care partnerships to commit to implementing the Scottish Government’s plans for carers to be identified at the earliest possible opportunity and for each to be given a carer support plan if they request one.”

The YouGov survey found that cancer carers from as young as 17 to people in their 80s are having to take on more responsibility for the person they care for.

Almost 6,500 people across the UK took part in the survey.

Alan Ainsley, from Edinburgh, cared for his wife Louise for 10 years after she was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer.

He found it difficult to cope after her death in 2013.

Mr Ainsley said: “The level and types of care and support Louise needed from myself and others depended on the type of treatment and operations she underwent.

“Two long chemotherapy regimens left her with serious side effects that she had to learn to live with for the rest of her life.

“Louise also had to endure several amputations of her leg due to the aggressiveness of the bone cancer.

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“These necessitated intense periods of physically demanding rehabilitation as prosthetics were fitted and she learned to walk again.

“We were extremely private about the realities of what Louise had to experience and kept the harshness of the treatments to ourselves. In hindsight, that meant I bottled it up.

“When Louise died that’s what I found hard to deal with and I had recurring flashbacks of the things she had gone through, things we had experienced together.

“I was subsequently diagnosed with a form of severe grief and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) with extreme anxiety and panic attacks just two of the symptoms.

“Ten years of looking after somebody I loved had a profound impact on me.”