Covid vaccination promises to take away 'massive worry' for unpaid carers, says Carers Leeds support organisation
The chance to get a coronavirus vaccination promises to take away a "massive worry" for the city's thousands of unpaid carers, says an organisation that exists to support them.
While those working full-time or part-time as paid carers are among the top four priority groups set to receive at least their first jab by mid-February, those who devote their time and energy to being unpaid carers for family or friends were not afforded the same status.
But updated advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation last month recommended that carers who are in receipt of Carer’s Allowance should be included in Priority Group Six alongside people with underlying conditions.
It said the same prioritisation should also be given to people who are the main carer of an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if their carer contracted Covid-19.
Kim Goulden is communications manager at Carers Leeds, which works to support the estimated 74,000 unpaid carers across the city.
She said it was positive that many of the people cared for are being prioritised now as are paid carers, but it was leaving a gap for carers who have not been vaccinated.
"We're pleased carers have now been added to the priority group six but we're still on priority groups one and two so it's still quite a long way before they're up there," she said.
"The message from the NHS is to wait until you're called upon, but that can feel very difficult when you're caring for someone."
Access to vaccinations has been a real boost for those unpaid carers who have been able to get their first jab already due to being over 80 themselves or doing paid work in healthcare in addition to giving unpaid care.
Since Monday, vaccinations teams have also been able to start inviting those aged over 70 and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable to get the first of their two jabs.
Miss Goulden said: "Nobody is thinking this is a fix-all solution. People are still being careful and cautious but it's given them the opportunity to do things they couldn't before. We are still in lockdown but it's taken away a massive worry for carers."
While those unpaid carers may still have to wait several more weeks before receiving their vaccination, Carers Leeds is advising them all to make sure they are registered as being a carer on their GP's system in preparation.
Miss Goulden said: "When it comes to their turn to be called upon to get their vaccination, they will get that call from their GP. They don't need to be registered for the carers allowance, they just need to be registered as a carer with their GP."
As a self-employed carer registered with the Shared Lives scheme in Leeds, 63-year-old Mick Ward received his first jab on January 12 at the Thackray Museum of Medicine.
He signed up to the scheme after retiring last summer from his role as deputy director for social care at Leeds City Council and is currently waiting to be paired up with his first match.
It will see Mr Ward and his partner opening up their home in Chapel Allerton for short-term stays by people with care and support needs.
"It's a mixture of giving a break to family carers, which as you can imagine at the moment is really important, but also for the people being able to live somewhere different," he said. "It's a whole range of people with caring and support needs, learning disabilities, mental health issues. For me, it's about giving something back."
He said the rollout of the vaccine to unpaid carers will be a huge step, adding: "We all know the strain that can put on people. Being able to have the vaccine for our own security is vital, but of course then you feel calmer about being able to give support to other people.
"It's a really critical time for services like this, particularly when some of those traditional services have closed. Those day services are not running any more. People are worrying about what services look like for them."
It comes as the Yorkshire Evening Post continues its A Shot in the Arm campaign focused on the national vaccination programme.
Run alongside sister titles across JPIMedia, it urges Prime Minister Boris Johnson to deploy the country’s network of 11,000 pharmacies to ensure that every citizen is only a short walk away from a vaccination centre.
Our campaign also requests further reassurance for local communities from the Government and more easy-to-access information on the vaccine programme and its progress.
Miss Goulden said many carers of the most vulnerable people have cut off ties with the services previously there to help them to reduce the risk of catching the virus, while other services have been unable to operate due to the various restrictions in place.
"Where there have been services like sitting services that have continued, carers haven't wanted to take them up because of the fears about allowing people into the house," she said. "It's just giving people a breather, allowing them to access services and get them back to a little bit of normality."
Both Miss Goulden and Mr Ward said they understand why paid carers were among the first priorities as they could be visiting multiple people every day, but the impact of unpaid carers becoming ill should not be forgotten.
Mr Ward said: "If a carer becomes ill then that's a massive knock-on effect on the system because of the value of what they actually do. The council already has things in place for if they suddenly become ill or are injured, and we'd have to factor that support in."
Carers who need to access support and advice can contact the Carers Leeds helpline on 0113 380 4300 or visit the website.
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