Dr Natalie Winter
2023 Deeble Summer Scholar
Research Fellow, Faculty of Health
Deakin University

Prioritising carers' health and wellbeing

Family carers looking after someone with chronic illness or disability often experience negative wellbeing outcomes as a result of the caring role. Carers require support for their own health as well as skills and knowledge to provide care; they are a priority group in our community as they are largely unseen and unsupported.

My passion for carer research stems from my PhD where I developed and pilot tested a smartphone app for carers of people with cancer. I have since validated the app with other cancer carers for example carers from LGBT+ communities and women looking after men with prostate cancer. During these projects I have had the privilege of speaking with carers who have shared their experiences with me, and we have worked together to create a resource that is fit for purpose. Consistently across my studies, carers have described that they, and their wellbeing, are not acknowledged by clinicians, health services, the community, as well as people they may be caring for. Carers experience loneliness and isolation, and often find the most helpful source of support during this time is peer support. What has been highlighted across my studies is that carers do not have standardised access to resources or services, and knowledge of existing supports can be dictated by who you know.

I applied for the Deeble Summer Research Scholarship as it was an ideal platform to highlight carers’ wellbeing and offered strategies to improve care within the healthcare system. We know that carers are unlikely to seek support for themselves and a culture shift towards supporting carers’ needs to be driven at a government and health service level.

I work at Deakin University and our research team develops technology-based resources for carers of people with cancer. Implementation and uptake of interventions, such as these can be promoted with systemic changes in healthcare, such as extending clinician’s’ awareness of available support and having a standardised referral process. Systemic change is needed to promote equal access to care for carers.

I have enjoyed my experience during this scholarship and have learnt how to write with government audiences in mind. This scholarship has shown me how it is possible work with government and reduce the 17 year gap between research and changes in clinical practice and policy.