May 26, 2016
A growing number of people in the UK are now carers for a cancer patient, new statistics reveal.
Research carried out by the charity Macmillan Cancer Support in association with YouGov has led to the discovery that family and friends are increasingly caring for loved ones with the disease in their own homes, helping to administer medication, get them dressed and assist them to the toilet.
But does the increase in home carer numbers mean that more sharps injuries are likely due to untrained individuals administering vital injections?
How many carers are there in the UK?
Macmillan and YouGov's figures show that almost 1.5 million people in the UK are currently caring for a loved one with cancer at home, marking a rise of nearly one-third (31 per cent) over the past five years.
What's more, the amount of time that carers are spending looking after relatives or friends who are living with cancer has increased since 2011. Today, cancer carers spend an average of 17.5 hours per week looking after their patients, which is 2.5 hours more than five years ago.
The research also found that more than half (55 per cent) of cancer carers receive no support at all emotionally or financially, meaning they are at risk of feeling burdened by their duties.
In addition, one in five carers said that they spent as many as 35 hours per week caring for a loved one with cancer, indicating that the commitment required to looking after someone with the illness can be as great as having a full-time job.
Does this increase make sharps injuries more likely?
Fran Woodard, executive director of policy and impact at Macmillan Cancer Support, commented: "As the number of people being diagnosed with cancer continues to rise, we will see even more people having to care for their friends and family, so we urgently need to ensure the right support is in place for them.
"Many cancer carers have to do healthcare tasks they're not trained to do, such as administering medicine, on top of practical tasks, such as making trips to hospital, and providing emotional support. This is often on top of working and looking after their children.
"At the same time, they are doing their best to remain positive and hold things together, often compromising their own health."
Ms Woodard was referring to the fact that carers with mental health problems may see their condition exacerbated due to the pressures of caring for a loved one, with anxiety and depression particular concerns.
As a result, they may not be in the best mindset when helping to administer injections or other medication, meaning the risk of a sharps injury could increase. It is believed there is a higher risk of needlestick injuries in healthcare environments when doctors or nurses are under added stress, so the same theory would apply to those acting as home carers.
What's more, if a carer has not received the correct training for administering injections, a sharps injury could again be more likely, so it is vital that carers have access to support not just for the patient they are looking after, but also for themselves.
This will help to ensure that both the carer and the patient's health are well protected, with the risk of transmitting blood-borne infections from contaminated needles staying as low as possible, as this is a particular concern for cancer patients with weak immune systems.
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