Panorama Assistant Producer Fran Baker spent the summer working undercover as a care worker, specialising in caring for elderly people in their own homes in Merseyside and Brighton. This is her diary from the time she spent working in Merseyside.
Fran Baker working as a care worker
July 4, 2003: Shadowing a senior carer at the Care Connect agency in Sefton, Merseyside.
Today was my first day shadowing a carer and apart from my 70-minute induction yesterday, the five and a half hours today is really all the training I'm going to get - I found moments of it absolutely terrifying.
They're quite simple tasks - but also very private tasks, things that I wouldn't want someone doing to me.
The dignity that is lost anyway should at least be preserved with someone who actually knows what they're doing. I felt so guilty for stumbling and having to ask what I should be doing.
July 8, 2003: First day as a carer
I've just had my first proper day as a carer and I feel a little bit ruffled at the end of it. The main thing is really going into people's homes and not knowing what to do.
I think half of them said: "Oh, another one", like they had to show the ropes to someone else again.
You feel guilty for that. I'm not only asking people what they want done for them, half the time I'm asking how I should be doing it.
July 12, 2003: First experience of 'call cramming'
The end of the most horrendous day. I started at 8am and ended at 11.45pm. I was originally supposed to see ten people today, half in the morning shift and the other half of which in the evening.
Over the course of yesterday and today I was given four extra people to see.
I was supposed to see three of these new people at exactly the same times as another client, so they were completely overlapping.
The idea was that I just fit them in around each other. Whichever way you work it, you're either going to spend less time with people than you're supposed to or you're not going to get there on time.
I found myself at one point almost hurrying a frail, elderly lady to get into bed. I felt panicky, that I needed to get her into bed because I knew I was two people behind.
In a rush: looking up the next appointment
You're just letting these people down and you know that, but there's nothing you can do and they keep giving you these extra appointments.
It sounds as if you're just making a cup of tea and helping someone into bed, so you'd think it shouldn't take more than ten minutes. But it's not as simple as that. You're helping them get undressed, helping them wash, changing pads, washing up after them.
You're talking to them if you can, filling out forms, reading their care plan, and if you try and do that in ten minutes you're going to miss something.
July 13, 2003: The end of a long weekend
I've just finished what feels like the longest weekend of my life. I've worked almost 20 hours, I've seen 20 different people over twenty-nine different appointments, I've hardly had time to eat or drink properly all weekend - and I'm exhausted.
I've spent the whole of this weekend running around from one person to another and never feeling like I've really given anyone quality time, or as much time as they deserve.
It's not a pleasant feeling having to rush frail and vulnerable people through sensitive procedures such as getting washed and dressed. A lot of people just want someone to talk to but you can't even have a proper conversation because you haven't got time.
July 19, 2003:
I've just got my payslip for my first 4 days at the agency, which was the weekend and a couple of bits during the week before. For those 26½ hours I got £159.30 before tax. I worked a lot more hours but I've just been paid for the hours I was told it would take.
It doesn't account for the fact that some people might need a bit longer or might take a bit longer in reality. The encouragement is there to spend as little time as you can with people because it doesn't matter how many hours you actually do, you just get paid for the hours they tell you. If I am only in each person's house for 5 minutes, I will still get the money.
I've got my induction training invitation through for just over 6 weeks after my first day at work. Why they're giving me an induction 6 weeks after I've started I don't know.
There are things I desperately needed to know on day one, like; moving, handling and how to treat people. It just doesn't make sense to me.
July 20, 2003:
I've got into the mindset of a carer a bit more, and I'm not entirely sure that I like it.
I'm starting to feel it's unreasonable that someone wants to have a conversation with me when I've got x number of tasks to do in the next 20 minutes so that I can get to the next person on time, or even early.
I can feel my mind turning and it's something I'm really trying to fight against. I can feel that more and more I've got the urge to rush people and I have to keep stopping myself.
July 22, 2003:
Now that the initial shock of what I was expected to do, with no training, has worn off I'm just feeling more and more depressed.
I hear the same things again and again; people asking me if I'm going to be turning up tomorrow, if I'm not who is turning up? What time are they going to come?
Upsetting: Fran fought the urge not to care
If they can't rely on us, these people who often don't see anyone else, who can they rely on?
July 23, 2003:
I've just got back at about 1am. I've got to be up first thing to start again after a night of cancelled appointments, new appointments and new clients, people complaining because I'm late and I don't know what I'm doing. I'm not looking forward to it.
July 27, 2003: 10:45pm - the end of last day in Sefton
That's the end of my last shift and I'm relieved it's over. Not so much because the hours are long or erratic or because you get messed around or because it's really stressful, it's more because I've been finding it more and more upsetting.
I've really grown attached to a lot of the people that I've been caring for. I see people who should be comfortable in their own homes, who actually are lonely and isolated and anxious because they don't know who's going to turn up, whether they're going know what they're doing or when they're going to turn up.
There's anxiety, stress and a loss of dignity and I just don't think that people deserve that at the end of their lives.