Charity may be forced to stop helping

A SUFFOLK charity which supports people who care for friends or family members with illnesses or disabilities could be forced to turn people away because of a huge growth in demand, its chief executive revealed today.

A SUFFOLK charity which supports people who care for friends or family members with illnesses or disabilities could be forced to turn people away because of a huge growth in demand, its chief executive revealed today.

Suffolk Family Carers provides respite and support for the hidden army of carers who devote their lives to looking after loved ones.

The number of new cases they dealt with in 2005/6 was up 63per cent from the previous year and has already increased dramatically in the first few months of this financial year.

Jacqui Martin, chief executive, said: “In 2004/5 we had 780 new referrals on top of the work we were already doing. In the following year this increased to 1,221 and we are anticipating this to increase even more this year. Referrals in April and May were already up by 21pc.”

The number of people currently on the charity's records is 5,278.

Mrs Martin said: “It is putting pressure on our organisation and a lot of other voluntary organisations and we are in discussions with all our partners, whether that's Suffolk County Council or other charities, about how we can meet those pressures.

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“We are having to do a lot more fundraising because we don't want to be in a position where we are having to turn people away.

“It hasn't reached that stage yet but we can never rule it out completely because we don't know what the financial situation in the NHS will be like a year down the line and, obviously, if it is not improving that will cause real problems.

“More and more people will become family carers and everybody involved in organisations like ours needs to think about how we are going support them, because they can't do it on their own.

“I'm very concerned as to where and how these families will get breaks in the future.”

Mrs Martin said much of the increase could be put down to cutbacks made by cash-strapped health trusts and Suffolk County Council's social services department.

She said: “I've spoken to a lot of our workers here and they are in no doubt that a lot of the new referrals are triggered by anxiety caused by cutbacks in both health and social care.

“For example, one family carer has had the amount of residential respite care her relative receives cut from eight weeks to four weeks, while another has had the day care she receives cut from two days a week to one.”

Despite the increase in demand, the charity will not have their funding from social services increased this year. While the actual amount they receive will not be cut, they will not receive any money to reflect inflation.

Are you a family carer who has been affected by health or social services cuts? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

N There are approximately 98,000 family carers and 4,000 young carers in Suffolk.

N It is predicted that by 2010 one in five people will be caring for someone with an illness or disability or someone who is frail.

N Suffolk Family Carers supports people by providing them with a range of services, from support groups to help with paying for respite care.

N The charity helps carers to find support services near them and can also help people to get back in to education or work.

N They also provide a service for young carers which includes arranging days out to give them a break and help them meet others in the same situation.

N The charity receives some of its funding from local health trusts and the county council but the rest has to come from fundraising and charitable donations.

PETER Andrews cares for his son Neil, 39, who has had learning disabilities caused by brain damage since he was born.

Neil also has a number of physical disabilities and requires round-the-clock care.

Mr Andrews said: “I'm not as badly affected by the changes as some people as Neil does have a full time carer who comes in from Monday to Friday, so we are lucky in that respect.

“They take him out to various day services, but these are all changing quite radically and some of their activities are being curtailed because of problems with their budgets.”

Neil uses the Kesgrave Community Resource Unit run by Suffolk County Council's social services, but there could be changes to his care as social services are aiming to integrate people with learning disabilities into the wider community.

Mr Andrews, of Bodiam Road, Ipswich, said he is worried about the impacts of this on family carers.

He said: “If there is not a standard nine to five service then it means that parents or carers will not have the freedom that they have got at the moment to go out and about.

“As it is, you're tied because you can't go out until the transport arrives in the morning and you have to be back in the afternoon.

“I share Neil's care with my wife but she has health problems of her own as she is diabetic and suffers from all of the side effects associated with that.”

Mr Andrews, who had a stroke a few years ago, has been involved with Suffolk Family Carers for ten years and said he is concerned about the increasing pressure on the charity.

He said: “I'm not against people getting out of hospital more quickly but what does concern me is how much this will impact on family carers and whether the support will be there for them.”

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KATHY Hamilton's husband Stuart was diagnosed with Alzheimer's five years ago at the age of 57.

He requires constant care and attention, but the family have recently found out that a valuable respite service is to be taken away from him.

Mrs Hamilton, 62, of Sidegate Lane West, said: “I just have to be there for him to make sure that he is safe.

“It could be that he can't find the cupboard he's looking for, or forgets the way to the bathroom, but it's hard to categorise it really.

“Basically, I have to be there 24 hours a day. If I do leave him with a friend or relative he's always asking where I've gone or when I'm going to come back.

“My role is almost one of a mother now. It's extremely hard work, but with that comes the guilt because you feel like you should not find it hard, that you should just get on with it.”

A former Metropolitan Police officer, Mr Hamilton is now reliant on his wife for almost everything.

She said: “To look at him, he is a fit and healthy, handsome man and people often don't realise the extent of his illness.

“It's only when you have a conversation with him that you realise that he can't find his words.

“He's still quite aware of what's happening so there is a big embarrassment factor for him and he gets incredibly frustrated.”

Until last week Stuart was regular at The Hollies garden centre at St Clement's Hospital but the centre is closed on Friday .

Mrs Hamilton said: “He is absolutely devastated. He went three days a week and loved the fact that he is going to 'work'.

“He would spend ages getting everything ready the night before. Taking that away from him is a big blow and it also means that he will be spending a lot more time here in the house with me.”

One of the big difficulties the Hamilton's face is that free respite care is not available to them because Mr Hamilton is under 65.

Mrs Hamilton said: “We have got him booked in for some this weekend but because of his age we are having to pay towards it.

“It does make things very hard.”

Mrs Hamilton, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, said Suffolk Family Carers have been a great support to her.

She said: “I went to a pamper day that they held recently and it was fantastic. I had a massage and it was a wonderful few hours, I was able to just switch off completely.

“I have so much respect for the people there and the hard work that they do.”

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