Barnardo's urges amendment to Health & Care Bill
Government’s Health and Care Bill may mean more sick and disabled adults are discharged from hospital into the sole care of children, Barnardo’s warns
Thousands of adults with serious and complex health issues could be discharged from hospital into the care of children without identifying them for support, under the Government’s proposed health reforms, Barnardo’s has warned.
The UK’s largest children’s charity is urging Parliament to amend the Health and Care Bill, fearing that changes in the legislation could lead to vulnerable child carers slipping through the net.
Research carried out by the University of Nottingham with the BBC in 2018 estimated there are more than 800,000 young carers in the UK and recent figures show that 180,000 children in England who care for an ill or disabled relative were missing out on support because they were unknown to their local authority.
Currently, the NHS must consult the patient's carer when discharging a patient. This is often a point when further action is taken, such as undertaking a Young Carer’s Needs Assessment. The Health and Care Bill removes this vital safeguard for all carers including young carers. The Bill is currently proceeding through Committee Stage in the House of Lords.
Vulnerable children and young people are already slipping through the net and Barnardo’s is concerned the change could mean even more will end up caring for seriously ill adults once they are discharged from hospital, like Marisa who at age 14 was the sole carer for her mother who was discharged after having her leg amputated because of complications from diabetes.
Marisa, who was referred to Barnardo's Young Carers Service in 2018 by her school and is now 18, said:
“It came as a huge shock when my mum had to have her leg amputated below the knee. I was taking my exams at the time, and I only found out when I visited her at the hospital. Suddenly I was a young carer without realising it. None of the staff spoke to me at the hospital.
“My brother has learning difficulties, so I also had to take on greater caring responsibilities for him and my mum when she was able to return home. The hospital focused on things like making our home more accessible for a wheelchair user, but nurses and other hospital staff never engaged with me directly or offered me any support or information.
“I felt overlooked and ignored by the healthcare professionals. I would tidy the house when nurses came for home visits and help them while they visited. I would also accompany my mum to GP appointments, but none of this prompted any questions or checks from the professionals.
“As a result, my mental health really suffered. I started to have anxiety attacks and my schoolwork became worse. I have now also developed a strong phobia of hospitals. Some of that impact could have been avoided if support had been in place for me from the start.”
The impact the responsibility of children and young people caring for their family members can be profound and long-lasting, and outcomes are significantly lower than their peers.
They have significantly lower educational attainment at GCSE level, many struggle to achieve qualifications they are capable of, and young adult carers aged 16-18 are twice as likely as their peers to not be in education, employment or training.
Barnardo’s is calling on Peers in the House of Lords to support a cross-party amendment which would introduce a requirement on NHS bodies to inform the local authority where any new or existing young carer lives to ensure they are given the right support.
Barnardo’s Interim Co-CEO Lynn Perry MBE said:
“Adults with extremely complex health and care needs are already being discharged from hospital into the care of children. This is only set to get worse if the changes in the Health and Social Bill come into effect.
“Caring for loved ones is something that many young carers are incredibly proud to do but children must never be expected to shoulder the burden of care for their family members on their own.
"As a society we must protect children from taking on too much responsibility at a young age, and from sacrificing their education, or physical and mental health.
“Parliament must recognise the needs of children in the Health and Care Bill and ensure young carers can be identified by healthcare professionals and supported by local authorities.”