Caring for Carers

NHS Sunderland 

Clinical Commissioning Group 

Rachael Forbister TECS Programme Manager 


Sunderland Carers Connect Service 

For those who don’t know me, my name is Rachael Forbister, and I’m based at Sunderland CCG.  My role involves developing and leading on a number of TECS projects across the city, including Flo.  I’ve been very privileged to be involved in this work for over 5 years; every day I’m grateful, and every day I learn something new.  It certainly gets me out of bed on a morning!  Believe me, it’s not a perfect world, and I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way but that’s how we learn and grow.

Over the past 18 months we have had the opportunity to develop a fantastic Carers pathway which incorporates Flo.   The idea came from some of our nursing team who contribute to a palliative care group.  They often found that the carers struggled with their caring role, and felt it would be great to do something for them.  With a readymade network in Sunderland and our local commissioned service, Sunderland Carers’ Centre, we were able to set up a group of carers who shared their stories, and then used those stories in to design a service that would help them to look after their own health whilst being a carer.

It took a few sessions, with a few hiccups in the middle, to help develop the concept.  The group was made up of 8 carers, most of whom looked after their elderly relatives, although we did have a mental health and learning disability focus as well.   Pulling together their ideas, the working group was able to map out a pathway which could be used to build a protocol using Flo that matched their requirements.  The protocol was made up of education and motivational messages, sign posting for additional services, as well as questions to monitor the mood of carers.

The second key element was the engagement with the local authority as a key stakeholder.  The main concept of the system was that anyone who reported a low mood score would want a phone call back for additional support.   The local authority was able to provide this service through their telecare team on a 24 hour response.  Using the local authority’s call alarm system, Jontek, we were able to get Jontek and Flo to talk to each other.  Although it may be a buzz word, “interoperability” was vital in allowing us to achieve our goal.

Once the protocol was built one of the carers fully tested it to make sure it worked in the way we wanted it to.  This included generating alerts, and then subsequently checking on how the staff responded to these.  The user testing then allowed us to further improve the protocol and make some essential tweaks.

We went live with the service on National Carers Day in November.  A celebration event with tea and cakes was held for all of those involved with the development of the protocol in Flo.  We were also shortlisted for an award at Sunderland City Council Star Awards.

The service has since been reviewed; we have improved the evaluation element of it and created triggered questions to make it easier for carers using it.

It’s now part of the Carers’ Centre service offering, and offering it to carers is handled as “business as usual”.  I’m immensely proud of the work everyone has put in to making this happen, especially our carers.

My top 3 tips for anyone looking to develop a similar service for carers, or indeed any other patient cohort are: 

  • Be patient when working with patients and carers. 
  • Work with technology providers to help them develop solutions that fit your requirements – you might be surprised at what you get! 
  • If you are using evaluation questions in your protocol, consider using triggered questions so that they flow better and it is easier for whoever is answering to follow. 

If you would like to learn more about the Carers Connect Service, you can take a look at this poster.
#NHS Sunderland CCG  #Carers Connect Service  #Sunderland Carers Centre #TotallyUnique

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