Thousands of new unpaid carers in Wakefield 'not getting support'
An "enormous" number of people in Wakefield may have recently started caring for a loved one without any help, it is feared.
Health chiefs estimate that more than 23,000 people across the district may have unexpectedly become carers because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But with carer support services receiving fewer pleas for help since the end of March, many of those people will be "unseen" and may be struggling on their own.
Lockdown forcing families and close friends to self-isolate together is thought to be the prime reason behind the increase.
The issue was discussed at a local health meeting on Thursday.
Maria Green-Lynch, from Public Health Wakefield, said there were potentially 23,115 new cases across the district.
But she added: "Given that in Wakefield we've got a slightly higher proportion of people shielding, that could be an under-estimate.
"As a result we're looking at a total population of 60,000 carers across the district, which is enormous.
"Coronavirus has had a profound impact on unpaid carers. They're most likely to be young women who are already living in poverty.
"Given the fall in the number of referrals, it's absolutely the case that carers are caring behind closed doors without access to the relevant support services."
Figures from a national survey suggest that more than half of unpaid carers report feeling "overwhelmed" with stress by the current circumstances and are worried about burnout in the coming weeks.
Around 81 per cent say they're having to spend more during the pandemic than they did previously, with food and fuel bills on the rise.
Justine Bilton, from Carers Wakefield and District, which supports unpaid carers, said COVID had taken a huge toll on the mental health of many clients.
She said: "Our carers that have loved ones in a care home have had a particularly tough time, most of all with issues around visiting and getting access to information about their loved ones.
"We had some really difficult conversations with carers from the first week of lockdown. Some of them were being told that their loved one would not be actively, clinically treated if they got coronavirus. That was quite emotive."
Although Carers Wakefield stayed running as a remote service during the start of lockdown, Ms Bilton said the number of people being directed to them from partners such as the NHS has fallen significantly.
She added: "I think a lot of organisation will be fighting fires at the moment, they're looking after their own and aren't thinking beyond that.
"We just want to get the message out that we are open for business and we are here."
Local Democracy Reporting Service