Being a Carer

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Many thanks to Dr Melanie Jones, MWF Past-President 2003-2004 for producing this page for us.

A carer is someone who looks after and supports another person who could not manage without their help and 3 in 5 adults will be a carer at some point in their lives. Increasing numbers of women doctors find themselves with carer's responsibilities for elderly parents.   Whilst male doctors may also be in this situation, the role usually falls to a daughter.

The challenge of combining caring for children, parents and patients was the subject of a workshop at the May 2011 MWF Spring meeting. The following points come from those who have already experienced this situation and aim to help those doctors who find themselves part to the "sandwich generation" caring for both younger and older family members.

Challenges you may face and suggestions to make your life easier

  • The time and commitment required varies depending on your work and other family demands, and the level of support from your siblings / spouse

  • Look after your own health – you can't function as a carer if you are unwell / run down

  • Make sure you are contactable but ensure that everyone understands there will be times when you cant be interrupted

  • Your children (the grandchildren) can take on some tasks and contribute to care

  • You may be seen by the rest of the family as an expert relative – try to keep the role of carer separate from the fact you are a doctor

  • Your wider family may expect you to act as the "medical voice" when dealing with the NHS and Social services – give yourself permission to say NO if you feel this is an additional burden

  • Only move your parent to live close to you if they agree

  • You are doing your best in difficult circumstances, try not to feel guilty about not having enough time, share your thoughts with family and friends, explain to your children what is happening to their grandparent

Doctor and Carer

  • You will want to care for your patients

  • Maintaining empathy in work and outside work can be a challenge

  • Your clinical knowledge may not be applicable to your relatives' clinical issues – ask to speak to their doctors

  • Follow GMC guidance about treating your family and ensure your relative has their own doctor.

  • Telling your colleagues at work will ensure they understand what is happening. They can provide support.

  • Ask for help if you feel that the situation outside work is affecting your ability to provide patient care – Occupational health services and your own GP can assist.

Support from your employer

  • Inform your line manager that you have carers responsibilities

  • Make sure you understand what leave you are entitled to as a carer

  • Look at your employers Policy on Carers Leave

  • Some employers have Day Care arrangements for elderly dependents of staff

Dealing with Financial and Legal Matters

  • Setting up direct debits removes the requirement to pay bills when they arrive

  • Make sure your elderly parents have made wills. Who are the executors?

  • Consider Lasting Power of attorney for financial and health matters
    – this needs to be set up whilst the elderly person still has capacity to consent to this arrangement.

  • The Mental Capacity Act provides a framework so that individuals are empowered to make their own decisions and their families and carers are clear on what actions they can take

  • Has your parent made an advance statement (used to inform decisions on treatment) or an advanced decision (legally binding)?

Help is available for you and your parent from many other sources

  • Social Services – your elderly parent should have an allocated social worker.

  • Community Nursing Services

  • Palliative Care team

  • Voluntary groups

  • Private Care agencies

  • Residential and Nursing homes

  • Carers groups – these local associations are an invaluable link to what is available locally and provide support to carers

  • Hospital outreach programmes – useful if your parent has recently been discharged from hospital

  • Day centres for the elderly

  • Direct Gov an excellent source of information and links to other organisations

  • Age UK has excellent web pages for Carers 

  • Which? provides a variety of information offering support and help to carers

  • Attendance allowance may be available and give you additional financial support

  • Some local authorities are able to provide carer's relief using respite care

Final hint: Being a doctor is a busy life, a quick phone call everyday for a general chat with your elderly parent helps you both.

Medical Women's Federation
Tavistock House North,
Tavistock Square, London,
Tel: 020 7387 7765