'Lonely' and 'draining': How unpaid carers are propping up the NHS during lockdown

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Elaine Yates lives with her husband, Michael, near Wellingborough in Northamptonshire. For 20 years, Elaine has been a full-time carer for Michael, who has a brain injury, dementia, cancer and diabetes.

"She means everything. She is my angel", Michael told ITV Anglia. "If it wasn't for Elaine, I wouldn't be here now. She does everything for me."

Elaine Yates has been caring for her husband Michael for 20 years. Credit: ITV Anglia

However, Elaine and Michael's lives have become even more complicated because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Elaine said: "It's been extremely hard. We had 18 hours of care before so I could get respite. I could get some help and I could actually do something for myself, like meet my son for coffee, just be 'me' for a change rather than a carer. Michael needs intensive care. He's not able to do anything for himself, so lockdown has been horrendous. "

Daryn Fitzgerald cares for her disabled siblings near Thetford.

Anyone of any age can be an informal carer. Daryn Fitzgerald is 19 and lives near Thetford. Both her brother and sister are disabled, and she plays a huge role in caring for them and supporting her parents. Normally, work and college would afford Daryn a chunk of time out. Now, Daryn can't do anything outside the home because her family is shielding. The pandemic means no respite for carers like Daryn and Elaine.

"We were having carers before lockdown, but now it's just down to the family," Daryn said. "We can't get support, so it's been hard. I can't go out and do anything my friends are doing. It's quite lonely, it's quite boring and boring is obviously quite draining.

Daryn said being a carer during lockdown has been 'lonely' and 'draining' Credit: ITV Anglia

Northamptonshire Carers Association provides support services within the county. Deputy CEO Gwyn Roberts told ITV Anglia that carers were "the back bone to society".

"If unpaid carers weren't doing what they were doing, the NHS would have ground to a halt decades ago," he added.

Regional support and advice for carers during the coronavirus pandemic

Along with Northamptonshire Carers Association, charities across the region say recognition of carers' work is more vital than ever. During Carers Week, they're calling for more to be done to help.

"There isn't sufficient support yet. I think it's beginning to be recognised that carers are the part of the army of people who've been looking after us in this pandemic," Kirsten Alderson, CEO of Suffolk Family Carers said.

"More needs to be done though because people are extremely vulnerable. These people really need support, so there's a lot more that could be done."

Elaine echoes the sentiment - she feels carers have been left to their own devices during lockdown. "We're looking after loved ones. We're sort of ignored", she said. "I wish the government had looked at more help for the charities who help us."

For now, carers across the region carry on - often exhausted and isolated. They hope for an end in sight soon, more support and, most of all, recognition.

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