Long term carers, who devote much of their lives to look after a loved one, are being given a helping hand thanks to a care programme to support Sunderland’s most vulnerable.

More than a dozen carers, who support some of the frailest people in the city, already have a listening ear, as part of a six-week programme of sessions to help tackle some of the challenges carers face day-to-day.

Organised by Sunderland Carers’ Centre on behalf of All Together Better – an NHS England funded care model that is bringing together health and social care teams, alongside local support organisations to provide joined-up care to those who need it most – the sessions aim to share important information with carers to help them with their caring role.

The free sessions are designed specifically for people who look after someone with particularly challenging conditions such as diabetes; heart disease or chronic breathing difficulties like COPD. Led jointly by a carer support worker and specialist nurses, carers spend six weeks getting clinical advice on how to spot early warning signs associated with their loved ones condition before they develop into something more serious, as well as getting advice as carers around benefits entitlements and support available directly to them.

Each of the sessions are two hours long, run at venues across the city and are open to anyone who cares for someone with a complex condition. They will be delivered during the day, evening or even on weekends to make sure they fit into the busy lives of the carers who attend and not only provide invaluable advice and information but also a respite opportunity, where they can meet other people in the same position.

Val Armstrong from Sunderland Carers’ Centre who is running the sessions, said: “Carers play such a critical role in society, and they are so important to the wellbeing of people who are perhaps isolated or face social challenges due to ongoing health issues.

“However, often carers can become as isolated as the person they are caring for, closing themselves off from their own social circles, in order to dedicate themselves to the wellbeing of their loved one.

“These sessions provide an outlet for people who may otherwise not have a support network around them, giving them a chance to share their experiences and meet other people who are living with the same pressures. And more practically, the sessions are about equipping carers with information that will help them in their caring role and the confidence to make decisions around the care they provide.”

She added: “The practical side of these sessions is really important, as carers are often looking after people, without any clinical knowledge or training. We don’t expect carers to become nurses or doctors, but what we do hope is that by equipping them with further knowledge, they can be more confident about the care they are providing, and can perhaps spot early warning signs if their loved one becomes unwell due to illness or injury.”

One carer in the city who is tapping into the course is John Corr, 83, who comes from Washington, and has been caring for his wife for more than nine years. John is dedicated to his wife, who he has taken care of for more than nine years, but at times his own health needs can make it difficult for him to support his wife physically when she requires help mobilising.

He said: “I’m a happy-go-lucky person and I have always tried to remain active and on-the-go.

“I’m really enjoying meeting new people, just to have some time to catch up once a week and to hear about things that might help me and my wife. The other people here understand more than most just how hard it can be to be a carer, so it’s great to come along.”

The sessions are part of All Together Better, which brings together health, social care and community or voluntary services, like Sunderland Carers’ Centre, to provide holistic community-based care to people in Sunderland, especially those who need the most help and support to manage their long-term conditions and/or frailty. It recognised that carers provide an invaluable, often unseen resource that helps prop up health and social care services, so it is vital they get the best support possible so they are equipped to carry out their caring role.