A ground-breaking question in the most recent NHS’ staff survey has found that one in three of the health service’s employees is also an unpaid carer.
The NHS is the biggest employer in Europe with over 1.2 million staff. This new finding suggests that more than 400,000 of its workers are juggling their job with an unpaid caring role for a relative or friend who is older, disabled or seriously ill.
National charity Carers UK is highlighting the increasing number of workers with unpaid caring responsibilities and the need for employers to support them to stay in work.
Previous polling by the charity carried out in 2019 found 1 in 5 of the NHS workforce was also an unpaid carer. The survey result shows there are far more staff providing unpaid care than previously thought.
Further research undertaken for Carers Week 2020 indicated that at the height of the pandemic as many as 2.8 million additional workers in the UK took on a new caring role for a loved one.
Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK and NHS Assembly Member, said:
“The fact that one in three NHS staff has identified as an unpaid carer is an extraordinary finding.
“Increasing numbers of working-age people are taking on unpaid caring responsibilities for relatives and it can be a tricky balancing act. It has been especially difficult for those unable to rely on day and support services during the pandemic to do their job. Sometimes it becomes all too much – even before the pandemic, 600 people in the UK gave up work to care every single day.
“The NHS has taken an important first step in identifying the number of unpaid carers in its workforce and we will work with them to support this huge swathe of employees – talent the NHS cannot afford to lose. We encourage employers across the UK to follow suit and identify and support the carers in their organisations.”
Other survey findings show that unpaid carers working in the NHS are receiving support at work, with three quarters (75.9%) saying their immediate manager is supportive in a personal crisis, similar to those without a caring responsibility (76.5%).
Just over half (55.3%) of unpaid carers said they were satisfied or very satisfied with opportunities for flexible working patterns, demonstrating there is more work for the NHS to do.
Carers UK is supporting the NHS to improve its offer to unpaid carers in its workforce. All 1.2 million employees have access to its Employers for Carers portal and Digital Resource for Carers which gives them dedicated support and information on caring all in one place, as and when they need it.
The charity is calling on UK employers to follow suit and include a question on unpaid caring in their staff surveys, and introduce policies and practices that support staff to juggle work and care – such as paid care leave and flexible working from day one of starting a job.
UK employers can receive practical, ‘hands-on’ help to support the carers in their workforces by joining the 232 employers already part of Employers for Carers.