But for the thousands of people across Wales with caring responsibilities, there is often no let-up over the Christmas period. Unpaid carers do vital work, carrying out up to 95% of care in the community supporting families and friends. Without their crucial contribution, the care system would collapse.
I want to do all that I can to help unpaid carers and for that reason, I was very pleased earlier this month that the Carers Strategies (Wales) Regulations 2011 were unanimously approved by National Assembly, just before it went into recess for Christmas.
The Regulations implement the Carers Strategies (Wales) Measure 2010, which was approved by the National Assembly and received Royal Assent in late 2010.
The cross-party support for the Regulations was a continuation of the support that I received from across the Assembly throughout the development of the Measure. This is good for carers and a sign that Assembly Members are all committed to supporting them.
The Regulations, which will now come into force on New Year’s Day, will ensure that carers information and consultation needs are met. These are the types of provision that carers have repeatedly told me they would benefit from seeing improvements to, which is why I focussed on legislating in these areas first.
The Measure places a duty on ‘designated authorities’ to prepare, publish and implement a strategy for the benefit of unpaid carers. These strategies will set out how information and guidance will be provided to carers that will assist them in carrying out their caring role effectively. They will also set out how carers will be consulted and involved in decisions affecting them and those they care for.
Carers have told me that the Measure needed first to be rolled out to the Health services as they were struggling to engage with them. Therefore the first ‘designated authorities’ are the Local Health Boards, Velindre NHS Trust, the Welsh Ambulance Trust and local authority social services.
The Health Boards are expected to work with key ‘partner authorities’ in designing and delivering these strategies. These partners include Social Services, Third Sector organisations representing carers and GPs.
The Health Boards have been made the ‘lead authorities’ so that they are responsible for coordinating the development of local strategies.
I believe this ownership will help ensure the strategies make a real impact in terms of engaging carers with health services.
Given the Health Boards’ status as lead authorities, the Welsh Government has also decided to allocate £5.8m in funding over the next three years to them to support the Measure’s implementation, but with the clear requirement that they work together with their ‘partner authorities’ and that funding is shared accordingly.
My commitment to joint working is clear. Carers undoubtedly benefit when the organisations providing services to them work in this way..
I want the designated authorities to be absolutely clear about what is required of them. Indeed, many of the organisations have asked for clarity on what is required of them and, for this reason, the Regulations are deliberatively prescriptive.
Carers also need to know what they can expect and I believe the Regulations and associated Guidance do much to achieve that. Over the next several months, the designated authorities will be getting underway with their work to train staff in all aspects of the Measure, Regulations and Guidance. They will also be consulting with carers and Third Sector organisations on the development of local strategies. Many of these organisations represent the interests of carers, so this consultation will ensure that the carers’ voices are heard.
The Regulations require that the designated authorities submit their local strategies to me by 31 October 2012. Once I have approved them, the work of implementing them and getting the support to carers that they need, can really begin.
This work will be on-going. The Measure and the Regulations require the production of an annual report to be submitted to Welsh Ministers detailing the progress that has been made with implementing and monitoring the strategy and the local strategies must be reviewed every 18 months to ensure that they are still fit for purpose. This way, the strategies will change to reflect changing circumstances.
Carers deserve our support and these Regulations are aimed at helping them in the important work they do.
I hope you had a restful Christmas and I wish you all the best for 2012.