Teresa Lane, Citizen Ambassador – Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Programme

I was reading recently that 12% of the UK’s population provided some form of unpaid care last year and that unpaid carers save British taxpayers £139 billion each year; that’s almost as much as the entire nation’s health spending.

It’s undeniable that unpaid carers provide massive amounts of the UK’s everyday care needs to the population and yet who is looking after them and what are the opportunities for them to look after themselves?

I’m Teresa Lane and in my first year as a Citizen Ambassador, it has become obvious to me that when talking with people about their personal experience of cardiovascular disease, it is often the person acting as a carer, (who accompanies a loved one to a medical appointment) who by giving so much, is frequently putting their own cardiovascular health and self-care on hold.

Surrey’s unpaid carers give excellent and daily care with the love and dedication to their relatives, partners and friends that money just can’t buy. I’ve spoken with people who have told me about their exhaustion as a carer.  They worry about letting their loved one down by becoming ill themselves, and yet when I ask them when they last had their own blood pressure checked, or do they know their own heartbeat, they have said things like “Oh I don’t need to see the doctor, I am not the one that’s ill”, or quite simply that they don’t have the time to be ill!

This worries me. Finding out that you have an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation) can be a significant factor in the prevention of a stroke. Similarly, knowing from personal experience that you can feel absolutely fine even with high blood pressure, I feel it’s important for more people to understand that simple, early detection can play a key role in helping to prevent cardiovascular disease and its potential catastrophes. All of this ‘here and now’ prevention can of course also save vast amounts of precious NHS time and resources in the long term.

For those Surrey Heartland’s citizens (including unpaid carers) who only have their blood pressure taken as an incidental when they are forced by illness to visit their GP, there are plans in motion for another way.

There has already been ground breaking work undertaken to deliver planned blood pressure and pulse checks (known as BP+ checks) in non – GP settings such as Community Pharmacies, Community and Support Group settings and for those within our local NHS workforce in parts of the Surrey Heartlands area. As a Citizen Ambassador, I have been representing some citizens’ voices in the codesign and research phases of a prevention is better than cure approach to cardiovascular disease and stroke.

I feel that the more opportunities for getting to know our own blood pressure and heart beat rhythms in a range of familiar and unintimidating community settings, gives us greater control and personal investment in our own health, and can greatly improve the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.

My first year as a Citizen Ambassador has been both interesting and productive and I look forward to hearing and reporting back to Surrey Heartlands Health and Care Partnership the cardiovascular-related experiences, views and opinions of more citizens in 2019.

And just to go ‘full circle’ by concluding with the stalwart unpaid carers of Surrey, who spend a good deal of time in clinic waiting rooms; not for their own medical appointments but for those of their companions. Maybe this could be another location for the new BP+ Checks? Offering a constructive use of this unavoidable waiting time spent, by having their blood pressure and pulses checked by trained hospital volunteers or staff.