MENTAL health professionals meet today with the aim of improving services by raising the profile of carers.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is jointly staging the conference with the Princess Royal Trust, at Ushaw College, near Durham.

Dr Mike Shooter, president of the Royal College, will give a speech on overcoming barriers around confidentiality and working positively with carers who support partners, relatives and friends.

Aimed at mental health professionals, psychiatrists, social workers and nurses, the conference is part of a national campaign designed to highlight the problems faced by carers of all ages.

The conference will have its own in-house panel of experts, including Geraldine Waugh, from Durham County Council, who will answer questions from the audience.

Within the county, the council's social care and health service supports, develops and promotes carers' issues and helps to fund five carers centres, supporting about 5,000 carers.

There are an estimated 57,000 carers within the county, with more than 14,000 believed to be devoting 50 hours or more a week to the person they support.

The year-long national campaign, which ends in June, is trying to help carers of people with mental health problems, or learning disabilities.

It strives to encourage partnerships between carers, service users and professionals, as well as highlighting problems faced by carers of all ages.

Carers are estimated to save the taxpayer the equivalent of the NHS budget on an annual basis.

The Princess Royal Trust for Carers was formed in 1991 and is the largest provider of carers' support in the UK, providing information, advice and support services to 180,000 carers, including 10,000 young people.