Carers identified?

6.1 Introduction

Page last updated: 2010

A number of activities at national, state and territory levels have occurred in recent years that mandate carer engagement in all levels of service delivery. These changes include the following:

  • Development in some states of State-based Carers Recognition Legislation.
  • Development of national Carer Recognition Legislation.
  • Development of a specific Carer Standard in the revised National Standards for Mental Health Services, 2010.
  • Revision of mental health legislation in some States and Territories to mandate identification in a variety of forms.
  • Revision of the National Mental Health Policy (2009) and funding of the Fourth National Mental Health Plan, an agenda for collaborative government action in mental health, 2009–2014.
  • Publication of the RANZCP Guidance Notes, Involving Families, 2000.
  • Funding by the Australian Government of a wider range of programs for carers.
In addition, the 2007 National Mental Health Survey brought to government attention the significant size of the number of carers caring for people with mental health problems and illness. This was reinforced by data contained within the 2009 Report on the Inquiry into better support for carers, Who Carers...?, undertaken by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth.

Research demonstrates that better outcomes are achieved for consumers, carers and mental health clinicians by informing and engaging carers early in the planning and on–going delivery of service. It is increasingly recognised that carers play a critical role in the process of recovery and relapse prevention. Top of page

Engagement of carers to enable the implementation of legislation, policies and programs is dependent on:

  • Identification of the carer by the consumer;
  • Self identification as a carer; or
  • Identification by a service provider.
Many different health clinicians may be involved in the care of a consumer with a mental illness. Legal, ethical, and professional codes of conduct protecting the privacy of the consumer, have previously only allowed for relevant information to be shared among other clinicians as required for the treatment and care of an individual. However, recent legislation now makes it a requirement of law that health clinicians share with carers information necessary for their role as a carer. This is a balancing act.

On most occasions, this balance of privacy and sharing information is something that should be decided by consumers. Sometimes though, service providers need to make a decision about this balance without a consumer's agreement. This especially happens when a person is too unwell to give consent for the sharing of information. It also happens when there are safety and duty of care issues involved.

Confidentiality is not a reason for not identifying or engaging with carers. Staff have contact with consumers for very limited periods of time. The people who are doing the caring for the rest of the time have a right to be treated as partners in the care process and adequately equipped to undertake this process. Top of page

The following policies and protocols have been developed to provide guidance to services across a variety of settings in relation to identification of carers. The processes are multi–layered and may change according to the service delivery setting. The partnership approach needs to be supported at the most senior levels within every service setting. Protocols need to be embedded in every day clinical practice. Structures within organisations may need to change to accommodate these practices.

The policies and protocols aim to reinforce current training for professional staff and support clinicians and organisations to explore a more flexible approach to implementing evidence based practices that adopt a partnership approach to service delivery. This will result in improved outcomes for consumers as they undertake their recovery journey.