Better Care

Respite service is a ‘lifeline’ for carers

For people caring for loved ones at home all day, every day, respite can be a lifeline. 

Birmingham Community Healthcare’s Health Respite Service, offers short breaks for adults for up to two weeks at a time. Patients can visit as many times as they choose throughout the year, as long as there is a 28-day gap in between each stay. In exceptional circumstances, the unit may also offer emergency respite. 

Judith Russell, said: “With senior clinicians on hand every day, carers can be assured that the high standard of clinical care their family member receives at home is continued here. 


Who qualifies for respite?

To qualify for a visit, patients should be over the age of 18 and meet one of the following criteria:

  • The patient meets the NHS Continuing Healthcare criteria, normally provided in their own home.
  • The person has a medical condition that is stable and enables them to remain in their own home environment.
  • The person living in the community with health care needs is looked after by healthcare professionals. 

Health Respite Service: a carer’s story

Joyce Cruse and her husband John were regular visitors to the Health Respite Service.

Six years ago John was diagnosed with vascular dementia, which doctors believe was caused by a stroke during his sleep.

When Joyce, who has two children - Kathryn and James - with her husband, was first told of her husband’s diagnosis, she was shocked.

“I think John hid the early signs from us, and he’d always been so fit and healthy,” said Joyce. “He’d always been a keen cyclist and even into his 70’s would still get out regularly on his bike – often with our daughter, Kathryn.

However there were occasions where the early warning signs of John’s condition were visible to the family.

Joyce and John Cruse - health respite service users
Joyce and John use the Health Respite Service every eight to ten weeks

Joyce said: “My daughter, Kathryn, remembers one particular occasion when they returned from one of their cycling trips together - as she was getting of her bike, he turned to her and said ‘I’m not sure how to get off’.”

Shortly after that, John suffered a bad fall in the shower while on holiday in Norfolk, and was rushed into the local hospital where he spent a week recovering. After returning home to Birmingham, John was sent for further tests, which led to a diagnosis of vascular dementia.

Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia (after Alzheimer's disease), affecting around 150,000 people in the UK. It is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain, which damages and eventually kills the brain cells. Having a stroke is one of the known causes of this type of dementia.

Joyce said: “For the first two years, we were able to live a relatively normal life. John's condition was mild – he was still walking and talking and could do things for himself.” 

However his condition began to deteriorate more rapidly and over the last 12 months John, who turned 80 this year, has lost the ability to communicate through speech, and the use of his hands and legs. He is now in a wheelchair and needs help with all daily activities.

For the last four years 69-year-old Joyce has cared for her husband, with the support of healthcare assistants who visit four times a day to help wash, dress and look after John. Their house in Sutton Coldfield has been adapted with equipment and Joyce receives four hours respite twice a week which gives her time to run errands, but it is the longer breaks provided by the Health Respite Service, that give her a real chance to relax.

Joyce, who uses the service every eight to ten weeks, said: “I don’t know what I would do without it now – I don’t think I could cope.

“It’s just nice to be able to go out and meet a friend for a leisurely lunch without clock-watching. If I go out during my shorter, weekly respite, I am conscious of time and can’t really relax.

“When John is at the Sheldon Unit, I have more freedom and flexibility to do what I want, when I want – catch up with friends and family, take a holiday, have a lie-in! I will still visit him if I’m not away, but it’s nice having more time to myself.

 “I feel content knowing he’s in good hands. We’ve been using the service for more than two years, so the nurses know him well and provide those personalised touches that make a difference. Things like putting on his favourite TV programme and giving him a choice of food (luckily he still enjoys a healthy appetite!) make it a more enjoyable experience for us both – it’s like being in hotel!

“They’ve even been known to make him smile – something he rarely does now as a result of his condition. I really can’t fault it.”

However, Joyce still finds the time apart from her husband of 47 years very hard. She said: “Even though caring for John is difficult, and by the time I’m due for respite I really need it, when he’s away I miss having someone there - especially in the evenings. When he’s at home, the house is quite noisy because of all the special equipment he uses, so I really notice it when he’s gone.”

Joyce was referred to The Sheldon Unit with the help of continuing healthcare nurse, Wendy Cantwell. The couple had previously used other respite service closer to home, but feel that the care provided by the unit better meets their needs.

Joyce said: “Many respite services are more geared towards long-term patients, so for me, the short breaks offered by the Health Respite Service are ideal. That, together with the level of care provided by the nurses, makes the journey worthwhile.”

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John and Joyce on their wedding day
John and Joyce on their wedding day in 1969

If you would like to enquire about being referred to the Health Respite Service and want to know if you qualify, please speak to your GP, case manager or district nurse.

You can also call the service direct: 0121 466 6950 / 6646 

For more information on the Health Respite Service visit our website

Note: Shortly after this story was published, John Cruse sadly passed away. His wife, Joyce, has given permission for this story to remain on our website as testament to the compassionate care John received as a patient of the Health Respite Service.