The Care Companion Project: Putting co-production into practice working with carers, NHS, local authority and third sector stakeholders to develop a digital resource to support informal carers
An increasing reliance on informal care reflects the ageing population, the rise in long-term illnesses and limited local authority home support. Supporting carers in their caregiving role is a key priority. In particular, there is a need to improve the limited information and support for carers at crucial points during their caring role. This lack has detrimental effect on carers’ quality of life and wellbeing and may result in avoidable NHS activity, hospital and care home admissions. Digital technologies have been identified as having the potential to address these issues through empowering patients and carers with more personalised services and enabling people to manage their own health.
We have co-developed the concept for an online platform supporting informal carers iteratively, reviewing relevant literature, engaging with carers and reviewing existing resources. We are co-producing the intervention with a panel of five carer representatives to ensure usability and relevance; a stakeholder group with members from NHS, local authority and third sector organisations; an IT company; a team of five medical students populating the platform with content; and the research team facilitating, project managing and evaluating the process. In this presentation we describe the experience of carer representatives and medical students involved in the co-production. Views about participating in co-production were elicited through focus groups.
The carers valued seeing their views and opinions being translated into the design and refinement of the online intervention and felt a sense of purpose in working towards improving the caring experience for others through sharing their knowledge. The medical students valued the opportunity to draw on their own personal caring experience and bringing this to the project. They felt that working as a team provided a very worthwhile experience for co-learning from each other’s experience. They also valued the opportunities to be closely involved in working with the carer panel, although sometimes their other commitments made this difficult. The students stated that being involved in this project broadened their horizons in that it made them think about wider aspects of health and social care beyond the hospital setting.
There are a number of relevant consequences emerging from this. The importance of engaging with PPI on a meaningful level was stressed, and the sense of purpose this can provide for individuals involved as well as the value it adds to the project in terms of usability, quality, and overall relevance to the potential user. The project also shows that involving medical students in all aspects of research, including PPI may enhance their learning experience as they engage with participants, stakeholders and the research team in various settings and gain insight into research and practice.