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Planning for emergencies as a carer

It is common to not have plans in place for emergencies. You may not want to have to think about something unpleasant happening. Or you may just get caught up in the day-to-day tasks that need doing as a carer, and never find the time to put arrangements in place. Everything else might always seem more urgent or more important.

But if a situation arises where you do end up needing them, you will be very grateful that you previously took the time to make plans. Emergencies can be very stressful, and having arrangements already in place can remove some of this stress and allow you to just focus on the situation at hand.

For carers in particular, it is even more vital that you have arrangements made. Emergency plans can be crucial to ensuring that the person you care for is able to stay safe and looked after if something happens to you. You never know when you may need them, so it is always a good idea to get plans in place as soon as possible.

But where do you start with planning for emergencies? You might think that, due to their unpredictable nature, emergencies simply cannot be planned for. But even if you aren’t able to predict exactly what may happen, there are still lots of things you can do to be prepared for any type of emergency.

We discuss the various measures you should put in place in case of emergencies below.

One of the most fundamental things you need to do in case of an emergency is to plan who will look after the person you care for if you are suddenly unable to.

Often when there is an emergency, everything else in our lives has to be put to one side while the emergency is sorted out or while recovering from an illness or injury. But when you care for someone, you often can’t just leave them to look after themselves while this happens. You will need to find someone else to care for them in your place.

Think about other family members, friends and neighbours that would be well-placed to step in if there is a crisis. It is probably wise to have a few different people lined up, in case any of them is unable to help for some reason.

It is a good idea to think really hard about who you are picking, and make sure you feel confident that they are a safe pair of hands for the person you care for. It is a big responsibility to care for somebody, so be sure it is someone who you trust to handle it.

It is also important to try and involve the person you care for in this planning too, where possible. Care can feel very personal and invasive, so it is important that it is someone they are happy to have assisting them in this way. They might also find a sudden change in carer upsetting and confusing and it can help if they know in advance who will be looking after them and even better if they feel like they have had a role in selecting them.

And don’t forget to check that the person you have picked is happy to do it too. Bear in mind that not everyone will feel comfortable with such a big commitment, so be prepared for them to say no.

Whoever you select, it is important that they are prepared in advance for what they will need to do. Perhaps they could visit so you can talk them through everything and show them the ropes. They could even look after the person you care for a few hours as a trial run.

You could also try to arrange for some additional support services to help lighten the load for the replacement carer. For instance, if you normally help the person you care for to do their food shopping, you could instead arrange for them to have it delivered from a local supermarket while you are unable to be there. Similarly, you could also arrange for their GP and local pharmacy to fill and deliver their prescriptions. And perhaps a local cattery or kennel could temporarily take in any pets they might have.

If the care is going to be divided between a few different people, it might be worth using an app to coordinate this. One option is Jointly, an app which has been developed by Carers UK for situations just like this. For a one-off payment of £2.99, it allows you to all communicate with one another, record any medication that is given and store emergency contact numbers.

It is also important to think about some of the practicalities, like how the replacement carers will get access. You could consider giving them all a spare key, or it may be easier to install a key safe. This is small box you attach near the front door containing a key that can be accessed by entering a code.

If there are no family members, friends or neighbours who would be suitable, or if you want to make more formal arrangements in case they end up being unable to help, then you should talk to your local authority. Ask them whether they are able to provide emergency care through a rapid response service. Depending on the person you care for’s financial situation, this could have a cost attached to it so you may want to set aside some funds just in case.

It can make a big difference to anybody who is providing replacement care to have one document containing all the information they might need about the person they will be looking after. This document is often called an ‘emergency plan’.

The emergency plan should include the following:

  • An overview of the person you care for's medical conditions as well as their behavioural, physical and emotional needs.
  • A list of important people and organisations, like their GP, social worker or community nurse, and their contact details. You could also include the phone numbers of other family and friends, and important information like which neighbours have a spare key.
  • Details of any medication they are on, when and how much they need to take, where it is kept and how often they need a prescription filling for it.
  • Information about any other care they receive such as when paid carers or community nurses are due to come round, what they do to help and what their names are.
  • A calendar of upcoming appointments, including where they need to go and when.
  • Details of any allergies or dietary requirements they have.
  • Information about the types of help and support they will need, how this should be carried out and the equipment that might be needed for it. It can also help to make a note of their usual routine and any strong preferences they have, to help it all run smoothly. Try and think through your usual day with them and give as much detail as you can. You might find it useful to take a look at our guides ‘Helping someone with everyday tasks in the home’ and ‘Helping someone to get out and about’ for an overview of some of the most common tasks that carers support with.

It is worth taking the time to make sure this emergency plan is accurate and covers everything that a replacement carer might need to know. If possible, it is also a good idea to write the plan together with the person you care for, as they could well think of things you have missed.

Try to make the plan clear and easy to understand. You could consider typing it up if your handwriting is hard to read or writing it in bullet points with the most crucial information highlighted. Avoid any abbreviations or jargon that somebody else might not understand.

Leave a copy of the emergency plan in the person you care for’s house. Make sure it is in an obvious place such as on the fridge, by the phone or with their medication, and advise the replacement carers where they can find it.

Remember that the emergency plan shouldn’t be a static document. It will need to be checked regularly to make sure the information in it is still current and up to date.

You can never be sure when an emergency will occur, so to be on the safe side it is a good idea to put this plan together as soon as possible. We understand that as a carer you are often very busy so it can be hard to find the time. But it could make all the difference in an emergency so really needs to be prioritised.

In addition to writing an emergency plan, you might also want to use the free ‘Message in a Bottle’ scheme. This is where you put a summary of the most crucial information from the plan, such as emergency contact details and a medication overview, in a bottle in the fridge. You then put stickers inside the front door and on the fridge to notify everyone that they can find this information there. People who work in the emergency services are trained to look out for the stickers. Having this information easily located can save vital time in an emergency.

The scheme is administered by local Lions Clubs. They can provide a kit free of charge which contains everything you need to create your Message in a Bottle. You can often also get the kits from your GP, local pharmacy or police station.

Alongside having crucial information easily accessible at home, it is also a good idea to have the most vital information on you at all times. This can help if you are involved in an emergency when you are away from home, such as an accident.

You could make a small card for your purse or wallet that states that you are a carer and explains who you care for, where they live and who should be contacted to look after them while you are unable to.

It might also be wise to save emergency phone numbers in your mobile. If you don’t have a password or PIN on your phone then you can save emergency contact details in your address book with their name as ‘ICE’, standing for In Case of Emergency. If you have multiple emergency contacts, then you can save them as ICE1, ICE2, ICE3 etc. Emergency services staff are trained to search for these numbers. If your phone is password-protected, then you could set it up to display emergency contact details as your lock screen instead.

Depending on where you live, there may be a Carer’s Card scheme operating in your area. These are initiatives, often setup by the local council or a carer’s organisation, that allow your emergency plan to be stored centrally and linked with a card you keep on you at all times. This means that if something were to happen to you, the emergency services or one of your friends or family can use the card to access the full details of your emergency plan, anytime and anywhere. Talk to your local carer’s organisation or council to see if a Carer’s Card scheme operates in your area and how you can register with it.

The Herbert Protocol is a national scheme introduced by the police which asks carers to put together in advance the vital information that would be required if the person they care for were to go missing. This is particularly crucial if the person you look after is especially vulnerable or has a condition which might increase their likelihood of going missing, such as dementia. A template form has been created for you to complete, which can be found on the West Yorkshire Police website. The form includes information such as what the person you care for looks like, what medication they require, places they might try to visit and a photograph of them. In the unlikely event that they do go missing, this form can then be handed to the police straight away, saving vital time.

If there is a chance that the person you care for might need to go into hospital with little warning, it can really help to be prepared in advance. You could have a bag packed and ready to go anytime, containing everything that they might need for an overnight stay. This could include a spare set of pyjamas, a toothbrush, hairbrush, travel-sized toiletries, snacks and a book or magazine. You could also pack items for yourself too if you might need to accompany them.

The ‘Green Bag Scheme’ is an initiative encouraged by the NHS for people to store their regular prescribed medications, including tablets, inhalers and injections, all in one single green bag. This means that in case of an emergency, such as needing to go into hospital, the bag can just be picked up and brought with them. It will also allow hospital staff to know exactly which medications they are taking and have immediate access to them, minimising the chance that a dose will be missed or delayed. And it could also mean they are able to be discharged quicker, without having to wait for new medications to be prescribed and obtained from a hospital pharmacy. Green bags are available from most hospitals and ambulances often carry them too.

Everyone could benefit from taking a basic first aid or fire safety course. But they can be particularly beneficial for carers who may be more likely to face an issue. Knowing what to do in an emergency could save lives. Even just the knowledge that you would know what to do can give both you and the person you care for some peace of mind. You can even find specific first aid or fire safety courses tailored to carers and the situations that you are likely to come across. To find out more, take a look at our guide 'Training to help you in your caring role'.

It is important to tell your GP that you are an unpaid carer. This means if you are taken suddenly ill, they will be aware that the welfare of a vulnerable person may be at risk because you are no longer able to care for them. They can then arrange for them to be looked after while you get better.

It is simple to register as a carer with your GP. Some surgeries have a form on their website you can fill in to notify them. Otherwise, you can either call them up, drop them an email, or write them a letter. Simply inform them that you are unpaid carer and give the details of who you care for. In general, GPs are happy to be informed about this and usually won’t ask for further information or evidence.

It is a good idea for you and the person you care for to be added to your gas, electricity and water company’s Priority Services Register. This is a free service for older and vulnerable customers that provides a little extra support. This could include getting water and other supplies delivered to you in an emergency, being prioritised for repairs, getting notified by phone if your supply is interrupted and being first in line to be reconnected. Just get in touch with each of the companies directly and ask to be added.

If you have a job, it can help to know in advance what leave you are entitled to if there is an emergency with the person you look after.

You have a legal right to take time off work if you need to look after a dependant (which includes anybody you care for) in an emergency. For it to count as an emergency, it has to be something you didn’t know was going to happen. So, you could take time off if someone you care for was rushed into hospital, but not for a scheduled appointment.

You have the right to a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off to deal with the emergency. What is counted as ‘reasonable’ is up to your employer’s discretion. You must tell your employer that you are taking emergency leave for your legal rights to be covered, and it is a good idea to let them know about it as soon as possible after the emergency happens. You can take emergency leave as many times as there are emergencies. You should not face any worse treatment at work as a consequence of having to take emergency leave.

Some employers will pay you for this time off, but they do not have a legal obligation to do so. Many will therefore only give you unpaid leave or may expect you to take it from your holiday allowance.

For everything else you need to know about being employed whilst caring for someone, take a look at our guide ‘Working when you are caring’.

You may worry about your entitlement to Carer’s Allowance if an emergency means you are temporarily unable to carry out your caring role.

If so, you may be pleased to know that you can still claim Carer’s Allowance for up to 12 weeks if you are unable to provide care because you are unwell or in hospital.

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Visit our online support section where we have provided advice and guidance on a range of relevant topics to help you in your caring role.

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