COVID-19 has highlighted the gaps in support and resources informal carers face, an international expert says.

Professor Emily Ying Yang Chang

Professor Emily Ying Yang Chang is a co-chair of the WHO COVID-19 Roadmap Research Group for Social Science and is currently working on the WHO roadmap home care review report.

Writing in the Lancet, Professor Chang says the informal care sector emerged as key pillar of the health care during the pandemic and led to an unprecedented reliance on informal carers.

“In public health emergencies, informal home care providers are a crucial human resource that improves the community’s health-care capacity, especially in regions with an ageing population,” she writes.

Yet the challenges they have faced are poorly understood and have been largely overlooked by researchers and policy makers, Professor Chang writes in a commentary published online on June 1.

For home care to better support health needs during extreme events, urgent research related to social and economic impacts of home care is needed to update policies and improve health support programs

Professor Chang

Professor Chang undertook a study of people in Hong Kong affected during the early stages of the global outbreak and found nearly a quarter took up informal home care responsibilities.

For many this involved a “double burden” of working and being primary care providers.

Care providers also reported feeling stressed and inadequately equipped for their caring duties.

Wrong assumptions

Professor Chang says policy makers often wrongly assume that carers are adequately informed on medical issues, and that they

have access to home care resources appropriate facilities.

She says more research is needed to guide policy, clinical support and quality assurance, as well as to understand the impact of caring on individuals.

“For home care to better support health needs during extreme events, urgent research related to social and economic impacts of home care is needed to update policies and improve health support programs,” she writes.

She also calls for updated advice, clinical guidance and support for informal carers, as well as more home based palliative care,

special annual leave and flexible workplace policies, and support models including a ‘buddy system’.

Preparing for future health crises

A brief prepared by the Collaborating Centre for Oxford University and CUHK for Disaster and Medical Humanitarian Relief, with which Professor Chang is affiliated, highlights the significance of home care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It says that during the COVID-19 pandemic, home care acquired a new meaning as thousands of vulnerable people were forced into home isolation.

“While home care has been one of the backbones in supporting people’s physical and mental health outside formal healthcare institutions during this time, policies, programs and research in this area are inadequate and poorly supported,” it says.

“Many vulnerable people and their care providers are struggling on a daily basis to cope with this crisis, and more support in all forms is urgently needed not only during pandemic lockdown scenarios but also in the recovery period.

A stronger home care capacity will provide for a more effective response in the case of another pandemic, the paper says.

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