Taking Time For Yourself

As a GP, I have in excess of 6000 appointments a year. 6000 episodes of care, snapshots of illness. I’m lucky enough to go home at the end of a day and switch off, to some degree at least. For those who find themselves as carers, this isn’t so easy.

Even for those people I see frequently in clinic, I might still only see them for an hour in total in any given year. 8760 hours in a year, and I might only meet you for a tiny portion of it. As a GP I’m fickle with my attention. You’re the most important person in my room, for ten minutes, then the next person and the next and the next. You get my point.

Where am I going with this? Being a carer is hard. Emotionally and physically exhausting. Made worse by systems that are designed to obfuscate and confuse rather than help you in your time of need. I have absolutely no idea how the benefits system is meant to work. From my point of view, it seems that those who can least shoulder the burden of austerity the are the biggest victims.

I’ve met people who’ve been told, after years on benefits, that they’re not quite disabled enough. I once met a gentleman who has been seriously ill with schizophrenia most of his life. He had his benefits removed after a decade.

“Who’s going to give me a job?” was his question. I wouldn’t. As if, by magically appearing in front of a benefits assessor, he was cured. If that’s all it takes to get better from a lifetime of hearing voices, I know where I’m going to send my patients from now on.

 Hospital appointments get booked, then cancelled, then rebooked and cancelled sometimes in the same envelope. Or two appointments will appear on the same day in different hospitals. Or people will be told to see their GP for the results of a test, yet those results are still in their consultants out tray when the patient comes to see me.

Social care isn’t the same as health care. Which is bonkers. If someone can’t feed and water themselves for a few days, they’ll rapidly need some healthcare. The care of someone’s fundamental needs such as being fed, washed and dressed, is social care. It is means tested and many people need to pay for it. Yet, if a solid foundation of care is in place, you probably won’t need so much healthcare. If anything, my job is illness care, not health care. I don’t really have time to see the well, only the sick, by which point it’s a little too late.

As a carer, you’ll find yourself at the centre of a maelstrom of professionals, appointments and frustrations. Shifting goal posts in terms of benefits entitlement, and an NHS groaning at the seams.

When someone offers help. Take it. It might not be quite what you need, but take everything on offer and see what sticks. Benefits, respite care, social care, whatever it may be. Find a way to get time out. For many people, their carer is one of the most important factors keeping them well, but no one is indestructible. Find a bit of time in your day or week that is yours, and yours alone. It’s important to us all.

Dr Matt Piccaver