Informal carers experience a double disadvantage of poorer health-related quality of life and worse patient experience in primary care compared to those without caring responsibilities, according to a study of data from nearly 200,000 carers presented to the Royal College of General Practitioners. The study, from the Cambridge Centre for Health Services Research at the Primary Care Unit, was awarded the Royal College of General Practitioners Health Service Delivery and Public Health Research Paper of the Year 2016 on 28th September 2016.
A large section of the population – approximately 10% of adults in England – care for others; and carers are already known to experience worse physical and mental health that non-carers. But this study, originally published in May 2015 in BMC Family Practice, was novel in investigating the primary care experience of informal carers as patients themselves, rather than focusing on their role as carer for another patient. Carers reported worse patient experience than non-carers, particularly in terms of access, with those carers who were male, younger, non-white, or living in a socially deprived area rating their experiences the most poorly.
Student doctor Gwilym Thomas carried out the study as a student selected component (SSC) of his fifth year course at Cambridge with Dr Charlotte Paddison, now at Anglia Ruskin University and Dr Katie Saunders at the University of Cambridge. The team used data from the English General Practice Patient Survey (2012), including 195,364 people who self-identified as carers.
We found that younger carers were in much poorer health than non-carers of the same age, and that the health of all carers worsens as the time per week spent caring increases. All carers, at all levels of caring commitment, were more likely to report pain, depression, and anxiety than non-carers. Our study also found that carers reported poorer patient experiences in all areas of primary care than non-caregivers, particularly in access to care
– Dr Charlotte Paddison and Dr Katie Saunders
The researchers concluded that improving health services and patient experience for carers should be a priority for policymakers and for primary care services. They suggested that, to help support the health needs of informal carers, primary care practices need to continually review patients and compile a ‘register’ of informal carers. GPs could use the register to proactively seek to identify and treat pain, anxiety and depression among carers; and more generally, they could look at ways to improve access to primary care and provide individualised support to all carers, including younger caregivers and those living in deprived areas.
Thomas, GP, Saunders, CL, Roland, MO and Paddison CA. Informal carers’ health-related quality of life and patient experience in primary care: evidence from 195,364 carers in England responding to a national survey. BMC Family Practice; 15 May 2015; DOI: 10.1186/s12875-015-0277-y
Image: Grainge photography at the 28th September 2016 RCGP Awards Dinner. Dr Katie Saunders and Dr Charlotte Paddison receive the award from Professor Chris Salisbury, University of Bristol, Chair of RCGP Scientific Committee