A councillor in Richmond has spoken out about his experience caring for his wife with dementia, and has criticised the borough’s carers’ strategy.

Conservative councillor, Geoffrey Samuel, who represents Hampton North, said he did not regard himself as a carer “but as a husband.”

He says the council’s carers’ strategy is a “producer’s document”, rather than written from the point of view of someone who is looking after someone with dementia.”

He made the comments at this week’s Adult Social Services, Health and Housing Committee (Monday, December 16) when councillors were discussing the borough’s new carers’ strategy.

Cllr Samuel said that many spouses, like himself, “wouldn’t have accessed any service nor would I have known how to do so.”

He recalled attending a civic function, where the then director for Adult Services advised him on the support he could receive.

“He saw her and approached me and said ‘you can’t go on like this’, but other than that there was no way I would have known that there were services, or probably even wanted them,” said Cllr Samuel.

He highlighted how older carers often regard themselves as “spouses looking after our husband or wife with an illness,” and do not seek support or clubs.

Councillors discussed the best ways to ensure carers are identified and supported in the borough, from young carers still at school to those over 70 who are often caring for their spouses.

The adult social care outcomes framework for the year showed that the proportion of carers who use services who reported they had as much social contact as they would like, was down to just 21 per cent from 32.1 per cent in 2016/17.

There are thought to be more than 18,000 carers in Richmond, however, only 1,800 adult carers are registered with the Carers Hub Service in the borough and fewer than 300 carers’ assessments were performed by the council.

In June 2018, there were 450 young carers (under 25) being supported by the Richmond Carers Centre.

The strategy suggested that “health professionals and support services may not be aware of the carer responsibilities and associated support needs of patients”.

Vice-Chair of the committee, Liz Jaeger, said  “I’m very bothered about how many [carers] we manage to identify […] if we are getting some seemingly poor results in our surveys, and that’s among the people who actually use the carer’s hub, how much worse might it be if we had asked the people who have never been identified as carers?

“What can we do to raise the number of identified carers from the 1,800 or so to the 18,000 we think we’ve got.”

Officers said improving the recognition of carers and understanding of their needs is a “first priority,” but warned “you’ll never get 100 per cent of the 18,000 which the census tells us we have because a lot of people will say ‘yeah, I do ten hours a week caring for my spouse or whatever’, but absolutely would not wish to see themselves as a carer and are getting by. But we do need to ensure that the offer of support is there.”

They added that the absence of a concrete action plan was “entirely deliberate” in order to “establish working groups that will develop more detailed action plans”.

They hope to develop “carer-friendly employer policies” in local organisations and create a “carer-friendly community,” as well as improve wellbeing.

The strategy highlighted that “caring can have a considerable negative impact on a carer’s mental and physical health and wellbeing” – especially for parents caring for children with severe disabilities, or older carers who are more likely to have a long-term health condition of their own.

Cllr Samuel suggested that council officers should be provided with information on dealing with people who are carers and consider their background if they are given a penalty notice for parking in the wrong place in an emergency or make a similar mistake.