Unity and resources needed on Carers’ Bill

The much anticipated Carers’ (Scotland) Bill has now been passed by the Scottish Parliament and will enshrine in law for the first time essential new rights and entitlements for carers.

How disappointing then that an amendment to introduce national rather than local eligibility criteria for carer support was defeated at the final stage of the bill.  When the new law comes in to force in 2017, each of Scotland’s 32 local authorities will have a duty to produce a local carers’ strategy.  Without a unified national approach, we are in danger of ending up with 32 different systems and huge variations across the country in the level and availability of support.

As a national respite centre, Leuchie House already works with 24 of Scotland’s local authorities.  We see on a daily basis how widely support differs from postcode to postcode.  This puts unnecessary added pressure on people and their carers living with long term degenerative conditions and can result in them being unable to access the care they desperately need.

A welcome development of the Bill and the associated debate is that it has highlighted the vital role short respite breaks play in alleviating the difficulties carers face and in improving their health and wellbeing.  Under the new law, local authorities will have a duty to produce information for carers about short break services available to them.

Yet a recent analysis of the Scottish government’s respite care data shows that there has been a marked reduction in respite provision for carers in the past two years.  Further cuts are also evident, including a 50% reduction in the number of in-patient beds at the Lanfine Unit at Edinburgh’s Astley Ainslie hospital, and the closure of other facilities across Scotland.

It is estimated that there will be one million carers looking after frail and disabled people in Scotland by 2037. If the Carers’ Bill is to be effective in ensuring they get the support they need, a simple, unified system for determining the criteria for support and allocating adequate resources needs to be put in place, backed by a clear procurement process. Without this, the preventative aims of the Bill risk being seriously undermined.  

This is a fantastic opportunity to make sure carers get the support they really need. Let’s make sure we grasp it with both hands.

Mairi O'Keefe, Chief Executive. Published in The East Lothian Courier, 3 March 2016.