UNPAID carers in Scotland now have access to a personalised plan designed to ensure public bodies support their efforts.

The legislation, which came into force today, will identify needs and help carers access information, advice and support before reaching a "crisis point".

Local authorities and health boards will work together to prepare strategies, setting out proposals for carers in their communities.

Public health minister Aileen Campbell said: "Carers play a vital role in Scottish society, providing millions of hours of unpaid care a week for friends, family and neighbours. We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.

"It is vital that all carers receive the support they need to look after their own health and wellbeing, and have a life alongside caring. That is what the Carers Act will deliver.

"Our reforms will significantly boost the rights of carers and ensure that health boards, local authorities and others are doing all they can to identify and support the carers in their area.

"Crucially, that means having their own needs identified and addressed, and being involved in decisions about their own support as well as the needs of the person they care for."

The legislation also makes sure carers will be involved in individual decisions about their own support and what happens when the person they look after is discharged from hospital.

Under the new rights, the definition of a carer will be extended, with the removal of the requirement for "substantial caring on a regular basis" - meaning more people will be able to access support.

There are an estimated 788,000 carers in Scotland, including 44,000 who are under 18.

The value of care they provide is estimated at over £10 billion a year.