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Taking care of the carers in your GP practice workforce

The Carers Trust have reported that there are around seven million carers in the UK – one in ten of the population. There is an increasing need for practice managers to understand how to help their GP practice staff who are in this situation.


The Office for National Statistics published their Overview of the UK Population in November 2018, which indicated that the UK population is ageing and around 18.2% of the UK population was aged 65 or over in 2017.

Our population demographics are changing; as living standards have gradually improved, so has our average life expectancy. Consequently, more and more of our elderly citizens are requiring care and this responsibility often falls to their children, who are often already caring for children of their own.

The current picture

Millions of carers across the UK are carers and supporting a family member who is older, disabled or seriously ill. Employers have a duty of care to protect the health and wellbeing of their employees and need to consider societal changes and pressures when developing their future policies and supporting their employees’ work-life balance.

Being a carer is a demanding and often isolating experience. Employers can often fail to realise the toll being taken on employees when pressures at work combine with caring responsibilities.

The lack of a Carers Policy can leave both carers and practice managers in the dark regarding employee rights around their caring responsibilities. In fact, carers often end up keeping their responsibilities quiet and using annual leave to cover hospital appointments and emergencies.

What is the legal position?

Under UK legislation, there is no legal entitlement to 'Carers Leave'. However, carers do maintain some common employment rights and are also protected from discrimination due to their caring responsibilities and association with someone with a protected characteristic.

As more people become carers, it is not unthinkable to suggest that this will change in the near future.

What can employers do to support carers?

There are a number of things that employers can do to support employees with caring responsibilities, including:
 

  • Ensure that employees are clear on the types of leave available to them. Employees have a statutory right to ‘Emergency Leave to Care for Dependants’ and ‘Parental Leave’, but these only cover specific circumstances. 
  • Encourage employees to make a request for flexible working. If Practice Managers know an employee has caring responsibilities or is going to be taking on caring responsibilities, you could encourage them to put in a flexible working request. 
  • Arrange regular one-to-ones or ad-hoc catch ups as needed to support carers. Regular communication is essential to understand the needs of carers, especially since their situation can change suddenly and unexpectedly. 
  • Discuss with the employee how you, the Practice and even colleagues can support them with their caring responsibilities. An employee who feels properly supported by both the Practice and colleagues will likely feel less anxious about taking time off for their caring responsibilities and be be more engaged and motivated at work. 
  • Direct the employee towards external support Point your staff towards organisations or charities such as Carers UK. You could also encourage the employee to contact your Employee Assistance Programme if you have one. 
  • Introduce a Carers Policy. This could offer special types of leave to carers and provide more clarity around how the GP Practice will support those with caring responsibilities.

 

First Practice Management members can download a sample Carers Policy now by heading to our Policies and Procedures Library.

Members can also email hrhelp@firstpracticemanagement.co.uk to answer any other questions you may have about tackling this sensitive issue.


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