Should family-focused nursing be recognised in the UK?

Health news

Nurses are being asked if the concept of ‘family nursing’ should be formally adopted in the UK, to help the growing number of carers who look after sick relatives.

The philosophy of ‘family-focused nursing’ is embedded into several health systems around the world,  such as in some states in the USA, where relatives are actively recognised as partners in giving and planning care to chronically-ill people.

But the style of nursing that has developed in the UK has tended to focus on the individual rather than the whole family, although some nurses do try and extend their support to the relatives. Where that happens, it is often the result of initiatives taken by individual nurses.

Researchers now want to hear what people in the nursing profession think about the idea of family-focused care being formalised in the UK.

They say there is little information about nurses’ attitudes to family-centred care and would like to hear views on questions like:

  • Do nurses feel they have time to support the family?
  • Would it place additional stress on an already overstretched nursing profession?
  • Would it actually decrease the workload?

The study is being conducted by a consortium of nurses in the UK and Ireland and they are asking nursing colleagues to respond to this questionnaire, which takes less than 10 minutes and respondents will remain anonymous.

Veronica Swallow, Professor of Child and Family Healthcare at the University of Leeds and co-lead of the project, said: “Family-focused nursing is implicit in a lot of the work nurses do but it is a concept that is not necessarily widely recognised by policy makers.

“The result is no-one is accountable for looking after the welfare of carers of chronically ill relatives."

Professor Swallow added: “Caring for a loved one who is ill has a major impact on the carer. They can experience psychological stress, become ill themselves and may have to give up work. The carers often feel under-valued and this has a major effect on their quality of life.”

According to the 2013 State of Caring survey, 84 per cent of unpaid carers say the pressure of looking after an ill relative was taking a toll on their health. Two thirds felt the lack of support was resulting in illness.

Professor Swallow added that caring for carers was vital for the delivery of effective healthcare, because family members were often the ‘glue’ between the healthcare team and the patient, sometimes providing round-the-clock support.

She said: “If no one is looking out for the carer, providing guidance and support if they are struggling, then the costs of looking after the sick relative will come back to the NHS. So it makes sense to ensure carers are also being looked after.”

The results of the survey will be used to see if online resources can be created to provide nurses with more information about family nursing.

According to the 2011 Census, 5.4 million people in the UK provided unpaid care for a friend or family member.

Further information

The other nurse co-leading the project is Professor Alison Metcalfe, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Health & Wellbeing at Sheffield Hallam University.

The research is being funded by the Burdett Trust for Nursing. The online questionnaire will close on Sunday, 2 September.

Journalists with questions or who need more information should contact the University press office on 0113 343 4031 or by email