Caregivers play a vitally important role in helping the person they care for navigate the medical system. Many caregivers assist their loved one by taking them to appointments, communicating with doctors, and keeping track of prescriptions, for example. For many people, most practical responsibility for their care lies with their caregiver.
The importance of caregivers for healthcare in Canada is often underestimated. According to Statistics Canada, about one in four Canadians over fifteen years of age is an unpaid caregiver for someone with a long-term or chronic condition. The Ontario Caregiver Association estimates that caregivers’ contribution to the healthcare system in Ontario alone is equivalent to 30–40 billion dollars per year.
CCSN’s surveys on cancer and COVID-19 have shown how the pandemic has been especially difficult for caregivers. Many caregivers were restricted from being with their loved ones in hospitals, preventing them from assisting their loved one and from providing companionship during critical illness.
In CCSN’s third survey on the impact of the pandemic on cancer care, 13 per cent of caregivers expressed dismay that they could not accompany their loved one to the hospital. Some feared that they would not be able to see their loved one before they die – especially if their cancer was advanced or untreatable. Others were concerned because they could not assist their loved one in communicating with doctors and in remembering medical information.
Now, more than ever, caregivers need to be helped, and not hindered, in the work they do. Healthcare practitioners and the general public alike must recognize their irreplaceable role in the healthcare system.