By Mark Bevan, Chief Executive of Leuchie House, Scotland’s national respite centre

THE wellbeing of those with caring responsibilities is far too often largely overlooked. In that context, the Scottish Government’s consultation on carers policy is one we at Leuchie House – Scotland’s national respite centre – welcome as a means of providing a more strategic framework to address the concerns of unpaid carers in Scotland.

The policy aims to assist local and national strategic planning and policy development to support and listen to carers. Carers should be recognised and valued as equal partners in care and involved in decision making relating to their caring role. Currently, this is rarely the case.

At Leuchie House, we are committed to supporting carers with quality respite every bit as much as we are committed to supporting guests who need our care. We support the vision that we should aspire to live in carer-friendly communities, where carers’ needs are understood, and they are not excluded or discriminated against by virtue of their caring role.

In line with current policy directed at supporting carers, Leuchie provides respite care in the form of short breaks for people with neurological conditions, principally MS and Parkinson’s, although also including stroke. Unpaid carers from 28 Scottish local authorities used Leuchie last year and we provided 4,500 respite nights, and we provide specialist nursing and physiotherapy care.

Whilst we focus on the guest experience, we know that it is our provision of health worker expertise in an enabling framework which ensures that our guests can enjoy their break at least as much as the carer. That understanding encourages carers to make use of Leuchie, knowing that their loved one is safe and well cared for.

We charge for the service provided to the tune of about 50 per cent of the cost of provision, with the charge largely paid by local authorities or NHS Scotland through individual budgets or similar arrangements.

From anecdotal experience, it’s clear that the financial award to carers from their local authority is decreasing over time, as a percentage of the cost of a placement. This appears to be resulting in a lack of uniformity in entitlement and, should services like Leuchie not proactively manage equity of provision, we could find ourselves with an increasing population who have the private means to pay benefiting at the expense of those who don’t. Consequently, we rely on a greater proportion of the fee for some being paid through fundraised income, which is clearly not infinitely sustainable for the long term.

Furthermore, it is the policy of many local authorities that immediately on turning 65 the policy and funding framework changes dramatically. This can effectively exclude many from attending Leuchie for whom a temporarily vacant bed in an older people’s home is wholly inappropriate.

We are faced with a real concern that if circumstances don’t change this may inadvertently lead to a reduction in respite take-up by those without private means which has a direct impact on carers who are reliant on this for their own, much-needed respite. The Carers Strategic Policy Statement is a means to change this and provides a structure that better supports Scotland’s army of carers.

It’s time we recognised the huge commitment they make – not only to those they care for but to the wider Scottish economy. A strategic, consistent framework would be an excellent start.