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The Vital Role of Unpaid Carers

28 May 2021

The Hon John Darley was keen to acknowledge in the House on Wednesday the essential work of some quarter of a million unpaid South Australian carers who support the most vulnerable, and those in greatest need in our community; and the necessity for those carers to receive the level of support necessary to undertake this vital role.

John pointed out that, “Anyone can find themselves a carer providing unpaid care to a family member who is frail aged, having a disability or chronic or terminal illness.

“Attention has been directed at delays in the roll-out of the NDIS and availability of Home Care Packages but little community attention has been directed at the unpaid carers that are needed to make these services work,” John Darley said, “with COVID-19 presenting additional challenges.”

David Militz, CEO of Carers SA, advised that, “The number of unpaid carers in South Australia includes over 30,000 young carers under 25 years of age. The caring role is unique to everyone. Some people become a carer gradually, by helping out more and more over time, or suddenly after a health crisis or an accident.”

“Caring can include physical and personal care and assistance such as dressing, lifting, showering, feeding, providing transport, attending appointments, management of medications or providing assistance in an emergency. Whatever the situation, Carers SA is here to provide practical support and advocate for these amazing people” says David.

The Aged Care Royal Commission noted that;

“… the needs of informal carers …. should be recognised as part of the assessment needs of the older person. …. Respite care must be seen as a core part of the aged care system. … [so that] carers have regular breaks and attend to …their personal well-being. … This will sustain and support the caring role.”

David Militz pointed out that “National Carers Week, in October each year, provides an opportunity to raise community awareness of Carers and the diversity of their caring roles.”

In October last year, in time for National Carer’s Week, a survey was completed revealing some disturbing information. One-half of all carers were sole carers without assistance from any other family members or friends. High levels of stress, social isolation, financial hardship and disconnection from services planning were sighted as issues. In Europe, their national carer network (Eurocarers) listed the same “set of challenges” for carer well-being including the “difficulty in balancing paid work with care responsibilities” despite the “inherent as well as [ ] indispensable part” carers play in “the provision, organisation and sustainability of health and social care systems.”

John noted that the National Survey revealed a perception by carers of a lack of their inclusion and consideration in the health system. Nearly two-thirds of Carers reported that hospitals did not ask them about their needs, nearly 40% did not consider hospital provided sufficient information and nearly one half felt there was insufficient carer support options and facilities. Inclusion by GPs was better, but still more than half the carers noted that GPs did not ask about their needs and nearly half did not consider the GP was providing the carer with adequate information.

John asked the following questions in Parliament of the Minister for Health and Well-Being:

1. What response has SA Health made to better include and support unpaid carers in the hospital system since October 2020?

2. Has the AMA and Royal Australian College of GPs been approached to see what the issues may be with GPs? Is there a need for a medicare item code to cover support advice to carers? Is there a privacy issue to be addressed? Is there a need for an education and information campaign?

John Darley and David Militz agree that,

“The level of carer payments and allowances, carer superannuation and carer leave are overdue Federal reforms requiring the encouragement of State Ministers. However, the State Government can extent State-based subsidies.”

John considered that,

“Further work is needed, investigating carer concerns and well-being, and how best to provide measures, to support their vital role in our society. Service agencies, hospitals and GPs need to better direct carers to supports that can be accessed through the Carers Gateway.”

David Militz argues that, “the community and government need to recognise the key role Carers SA play in leading change and empowering carers.”

John urges “Parliament to add its recognition to this important process of Carers SA’s engagement with the SA Government, and its health and service agencies, to provide better and more relevant services, to improve conditions under which carers operate, and support and further acknowledge their vital contribution to the SA community. The SA Carers Recognition Act needs to be upgraded to SA Carers Inclusion and Support Act to mandate the inclusion process and level of supports required.”