Published: 05/08/2004, Volume II4, No. 5917 Page 28

There are 7 million carers in the UK, 3 million of whom are in employment and 57 per cent of whom are women. Caring for a sick or disabled relative or friend can happen overnight and can be unpredictable.

In April, prime minister Tony Blair pledged to extend the right of carers of elderly and sick relatives to request flexible working. This currently only applies to parents.

Last year the East Kent health economy appointed a workforce development confederation-funded carers project manager to develop a support package for staff with caring responsibilities.

Research showed that the costs of alternative care arrangements were a concern for staff, but experiences of other trusts in setting up daycare facilities for dependents have shown it was not viable.

Staff supported investigations into providing an emergency home care service that employees could pay for.

Allowing individuals to work flexibly means you retain their skills, they can work longer and they gain an insight into the same system as a lot of the patients.