Carers course celebrates a year of support

female first aider careing for patient

Over 80 carers from all over Devon have overwhelmingly welcomed a special course created by St John Ambulance which is celebrating its first successful year.

The free St John Ambulance Carers’ Support Programme has taken place in towns and cities including Barnstaple, Plymouth, Exeter, Cullompton, Sidmouth,Tavistock and Paignton.

A survey of all those who took part showed that what they had learnt had made a tangible difference to the way they carried out these demanding and stressful roles.

The four-session course gives carers a range of help and advice on everything from basic first aid and managing continence, to stress management and safer moving and handling to reduce the risk of back injury.

The results come after a recent study by the Department of Health* said that ‘Carers are more likely to experience high levels of psychological distress, including anxiety, depression and loss of confidence and self esteem than non-carers’.

Emma Healey, St John Devon’s Carers Support Programme Manager, said: 'When we started a year ago we thought there would be a demand but we had little idea of the scale of the issue. This recent report from the Department of Health gave a massive boost to us all – showing that what we are doing is extremely valuable. I don’t think it would be too strong to say it’s saving lives – saving those that are being cared for being at risk from wrong handling or first aid, and those that are doing the caring from descending into a spiral of depression and isolation.

There are an estimated 6 million unpaid carers nationally, many of whom have to give up work to take on the role, and then become isolated, stressed and even injured. Carers’ support is worth a staggering £87 billion per year to the state.

Feedback from carers

Margaret Perry, 57, from Sidmouth, cares for her husband and her mother, and is also herself registered disabled with rheumatoid arthritis. She said: 'For a stranger to understand what a carer does one would have to give a huge amount of details therefore one keeps quiet about it and bottles it up,' said Margaret. 'On this course it was such a relief to be able to talk freely. We all felt we could say things we hadn’t said to anyone before.

'I made a new friend on the course and we have been out for lunch twice and now attend the monthly Alzheimers Society meetings. I hadn’t had any time for myself since 2004, now I take a break – Emma made me see that some respite is important for my own health. My husband has a carer in for a couple of hours and I go to a seafront hotel for tea and biscuits and read my book, and I don’t feel guilty anymore.

'There have been practical benefits as well. I now have a stair basket for Mum to carry things upstairs. Only this morning my husband tripped and fell and rather than trying to lift him myself I stayed calm, bought a stool and held on to him so he could turn around, get onto his knees and get himself up the right way.'

In the survey carried out after the course, carers mentioned how much they appreciated meeting others in a similar position, and how much they had learnt from each other (27%).

One in five felt their caring role was easier to manage knowing they were not alone; many felt less isolated and others more confident as a result of the course.

Each carer taking part is given a resource pack full of valuable information and details of local services and support, and a first aid kit to take away at the end of the four session course.

Devon is amongst only six counties that are currently running the course. To be eligible for the free course, people have to be aged over 18 and care for someone over the age of 18, unpaid. The programme features four morning sessions, over a four – six week period, starting at 10am and closing with a free lunch at 1pm.

The course includes subjects such as:

  • an introduction to caring skills
  • safer handling, advice on back care and prevent of injury
  • stress management
  • prevention of falls

* Department of Health (2008) Carers at the heart of the 21st century families and communities: a caring system on your side, a life of your own. London.