Naheeda Rahman, a medical student at UCL, explains an important pilot initiative underway in London to better support young carers in healthcare environments.
Carers are vital to the health of the person they care for and indispensable to the NHS. Every year they save the NHS around £132 billion. An estimated 1 in 12 secondary school pupils are young carers – that means, under 18 and assisting in the care of a relative or friend who is ill, disabled or misuses drugs or alcohol. They care out of love, duty and a necessity borne out of gaps in care services.
Although young carers are integral to our society, they remain largely hidden. The impact that being a young carer can have has been well documented. It’s known that they’re more likely to develop physical and mental illness, and will have less success in education than their peers. Despite this, there are few initiatives specifically targeting young carers within healthcare settings.
In London, we’re challenging this by piloting identification cards for young carers. With it, we aim to address some of the barriers faced by young carers when it comes to accessing healthcare in London.
We started with a series of interviews with healthcare professionals in paediatric and adult care and with young carers. We explored their perceptions of young carers’ rights and the support they need. We also involved young carers in a workshop focused on their rights within the NHS. Six major themes emerged, with identification being the biggest obstacle for young carers trying to access appropriate support, such as information and training.
We found six predominant themes: identification, support, awareness, family dynamic, young carer’s voice, impact.
The results highlighted that because they were not easily identified as a young carer when in a healthcare setting they were unable to get the care and the support they needed.
The idea of an identification card for young carers grew from there. We used follow-up workshops and further consultation with a range of healthcare professionals to create a design brief that young carers and healthcare professionals agreed would help overcome the identification barrier. The cards can equip young carers with the knowledge and confidence they need to encourage and empower them to assert their rights.
I’m very excited that over 150 Young Carer Identification Cards have now been produced for this pilot. The cards come in three eye-catching colours, with ‘Young Carers’ emblazoned on them; a nod to the fact that currently there is no single identifier for this group.
Healthy London Partnership’s funding made this pilot possible, alongside the input of both young carers from Family Action’s Islington and Camden Young Carers Service and Whittington Hospital staff. We are working with a handful of NHS trusts and voluntary sector organisations across London to test the impact. We want to help empower as many young carers in London as possible to have their voices heard and are exploring opportunities to distribute the cards more widely.
The young carers we worked with have bold ambitions for this project, and we’d love to be able to achieve that with them.
To learn more about issues surrounding young carers, or where to get support if you are/ know one go to: