Rebecca Minton Cancer Nurse Specialist at Reframe, provides her take on the role of carers, the future of healthcare and why carers may be mourning for more than their loved one.

Has the role of carers changed since Covid-19?

Yes, for sure. They will need to be careful when going out to a supermarket, petrol station or communal space as the risk of catching Covid-19 is not only detrimental to them, but even more so to the person shielding at home. They’ll also need to ensure both they and their loved one are acting within national guidance  to minimise their risk of contracting the virus and at the same time continuing  to access and use healthcare service when they have a need.

The way people have appointments with their GP or hospital clinical team have changed significantly. For example, many consultations are now being conducted remotely over the telephone or via video links. Some services have been temporarily suspended. Our healthcare service has undergone a major shift in how they provide care so that they continue to do so in a safe manner.

This may not seem a big deal to some, but for many, face-to-face appointments are preferable - especially when it concerns discussing sensitive matters such as cancer treatment. For people who are classified as vulnerable or are undergoing treatment, they will have to accept and adjust to this new form of healthcare whilst understanding that it is keeping both them and the medical staff safe.

Where usual support groups and other forms of support are not currently available, the carer must adapt how they  provide their ongoing support. If they have long-term illness such as cancer, their treatment plan could be on hold or be adjusted – hugely concerning for both the patient and carer. This will be adding stress and anxieties to the carer’s mental wellbeing.

There has also been an increase in pressure on new carers who might be helping a relative or neighbour during lockdown. This remote care is likely to continue into the foreseeable future as those who have been classified as vulnerable continue to shield and require help and assistance. It’s vital that we don’t forget about checking in with how the carer is coping. As an employer, if you’re on a call with someone who is supporting others, ask if they need any resources or help. If they are wary of opening up to you, ask them to rate how they are feeling out of 10 and diarise a weekly or fortnightly occurrence to ask them this question again. Remember, it’s not just remote caring which could be impacting their mental wellbeing, but so too the recent shift to remote working.

What impact have you seen on carers during lockdown?

This situation has caused a great deal of stress and anxiety for carers. Not only because they are consumed with fear about their loved one contracting Covid-19 and if so, how poorly it will make them. But they have also had to manage tasks that they may have never previously  For example organising treatment and appointments, easing physical discomforts, administering medication, whilst understanding how best to approach these in order to keep them safe.

Concerns over food shopping, keeping the loved occupied and their emotional and psychological wellbeing healthy are also worries that we are supporting our clients with. On top of this, many have full time jobs or children to also look after.      

I hope carers are reaching out to their employer, friends and support networks during this time.

How does the loss of a dependent impact the carer?

Dealing with the death of a loved one is always difficult – even when we’re prepared for it to happen. But when a carer loses the person they’re looking after, not only are they losing that relationship but so too their ‘caring identity’. Suddenly, the routine they’ve established has gone and they may find themselves at a loss of how to cope and re-establish how to spend their time.

Bereavement is often a difficult and unpleasant conversation to hold but there are many ways in which you can acknowledge and offer support to someone going through it. If a teammate is currently dealing with a loss, communicate this to the wider team if they are happy for you to do so to ensure everyone knows why they are not online or as present as they normally are.

Provide them with time and space. Do you need to look at additional counselling services? Do your staff know how to access counselling through their EAPs (if applicable)? If they don't want counselling services now, then they may do in a few months’ time.

We’ve seen a major community spirit happen since lockdown began. How have you reacted to, or seen this where you’re based?

My mother in law is a keen knitter and I purchased various types and colours of wool for her to make some “ear savers” for the local hospital.

Ear savers are designed to relieve pressure when staff wear masks for a long period of time. They sit at the back of the head and have buttons for the face mask to hook - the buttons are personalised with “Frontline heroes 2020”. So far, she has knitted over 250 for Basingstoke hospital.

I have also been involved in speaking with retailers  such as Waitrose and The Body Shop to arrange transportation of food, hand creams, body washes etc. for the patients and staff at Basingstoke hospital.

Read our tips on supporting your most vulnerable team mates