Panorama Assistant Producer Fran Baker spent the summer working undercover as a careworker, specialising in caring for elderly people in their own homes in Merseyside and Brighton. Below are extracts of her diary from the time she spent working in Brighton.
Undercover: Panorama's Fran Baker
19th August 2003: Moving on to Brighton
I'm in Brighton now, I've signed up for a couple of agencies and hopefully I'm going to be finding out how things are done down here.
August 20, 2003: Looking for work
I've just called all of the agencies that are approved by Social Services in Brighton & Hove to do home care for the elderly. And I'm amazed only one of them said that I really needed some previous experience, the rest really just seemed desperate for staff. They just want me on the street as soon as possible.
August 21, 2003:
I can't believe that Anchor has called me up and asked me to work this weekend. I've done my 3 or 4 hour induction. They've spoken to one of my referees, and that's it. They've not even had a faxed copy of either of my references, and they're just sending me out because they're desperate for staff. I can't believe it.
August 22, 2003: I get two jobs
I've just found out that I start work for Medichoice in three days time. I've been given my first week of shifts. That was slightly surprising as I only met them yesterday, and they haven't asked me for any kind of identification showing who I am, they've not got any written references from me and they've not got a criminal records check on me either.
On top of that, they've not given me any training before I start at all. I had felt better about the lack of training because I was going to get to follow a senior carer around for a couple of weeks and learn the ropes from them. That two weeks has now been reduced to just two and a half hours.
I also signed my contract for Anchor today. They really need people to work this weekend. It says at the top that I've successfully completed my induction training, which was a little bit of a surprise to me, because the reality of the induction this week has been very different to what I thought it would be.
My manual handling training (which was supposed to be a day long) was an hour and a half. As far as I'm concerned all it qualifies me to do is watch someone else using a hoist and have a vague idea of what they're doing.
The time following a senior carer (in which I was going to write up various exercises about and show what I'd learned) has gone out the window because, ultimately, all of these good intentions do when they need some staff.
August 23, 2003: First appointment
I've just had my first appointment for Anchor, a half hour appointment so I thought it would be quite an easy introduction. The sheet that they gave me said she just needed the commode emptying and a meal preparing.
When I arrived the major problem was that the lady said she didn't want to use the commode and I had to change her pad but she said she couldn't stand. I tried to help her to stand and she just kept saying "No" and sounded so distressed. She just kept saying "No, no, no".
Late: Fran Baker looks for her next appointment
I called the agency, the helpline number, the on call number, and although it went through, they said they had no idea of what her normal routine is either. I think it must be some central system.
Tomorrow I know I'm seeing that lady again and I'm really not looking forward to that because I don't want to distress her anymore.
I could tell she was distressed and I don't want to have to do that again. I don't want to be making vulnerable people's lives any more difficult that they already are. And I feel that in just one appointment that's what I've done. I feel completely isolated.
It's bad enough going into someone's house and trying to help them and you've not got a clue what they need or how to do it. But it's even worse when you phone up the people who are supposed to be there to support you and they can't help.
24th August 2003: End of first weekend with Anchor
I've just finished my first weekend working for Anchor and I feel exhausted, both physically, emotionally and mentally.
I can't help feeling that there are people out there that I was supposed to be helping this weekend that I've not really helped. Whose lives I've just made a bit more distressing and difficult, and that's an awful thought to go to bed with.
The thing that I find hard is realising that I'm becoming hardened and it's almost like the more I work as a carer, the less caring I become.
You can't genuinely care. If you did you would constantly be running late and getting later and later. In the end, you just have to become hardened and go in, do your job, rush through.
If someone tries to make a conversation with you, you just have to be as brief as possible and get out as quickly as you can.
August 24, 2003: Medichoice Shadowing
I went around with a senior carer/supervisor today and the idea was that she was showing me the ropes and giving me an idea of what to do. There were a couple of basic things there but more than anything else, I think what I learnt were tricks of the trade.
She told me that most appointments don't take anywhere near the time that are down for them, she told me which clients you can get away with leaving early but getting the full money.
What I came away with at the end of the day was not a great deal of knowledge of how to deal with all the situations I'm going to face but really more of a sense that as carers are out there on their own, the potential to play the system is there.
August 29, 2003: Working for Medichoice
The end of another shift but it was only a few hours, however I'm getting really tired of constantly being late or worrying about being late. I'm always looking at my watch and trying to look for any opportunity to hurry things along and it makes me feel so guilty.
Today there was one lady that was telling me that it was the anniversary of her husbands death, and she was telling me about how he died and it was just a heartbreaking story. I was so ashamed because at the back of my mind I was thinking: "oh, I hope this doesn't make me late".
September 1, 2003:
I don't know if I'm cut out to be a carer. I just don't want to do this anymore because of the sense of guilt, because I don't know what I'm doing and because I'm never at people's houses on time and because I know that they deserve a much better care than I can actually give them.
It's overwhelming and I will be so glad when this is over. It's really made me think twice about getting old. I don't want to be old and I don't want someone like me caring for me when I'm that vulnerable and in need.
Exhausted: Fran heads off to work
September 6, 2003:
I've started my second weekend for Anchor. I went to see a lady who was a private client but had been told that she would always get experienced carers. With this being my third actual day working for them, I wouldn't say I was an experienced carer really. It took a lot longer because the lady had a lot of difficulties and felt very insecure.
September 7, 003: The Longest Day
It's gone 11pm. I started work at 7am. I left the house half past six and I knew today was going to be a long day. I thought I was looking at about a 12 or 13 hour day, with a 3 hour break in the middle. It turned out to be a 16 hour day with no break, and I've travelled more than a 100 miles.
As a carer I thought I'd be caring for people, but I haven't got the time. I look at people - and they know that I just want to get in and out. A lady said to me tonight: "as soon as people arrive they want to walk out the door again". I think now I've become one of those people. I haven't got the time to care for them.
September 9, 2003: The end of the road
I've come to the end of my summer as a carer, and, although it's been a glorious summer, I've never wanted a summer to end so much in my life. I've found it incredibly depressing and shocking. I never expected that it would be this hard.
When I started as a carer I had no idea that I'd be as upset by what I saw as I have been. More than anything else, it's made me absolutely terrified of getting old.
From what I've seen, being at home alone when you get older means being vulnerable and anxious and isolated. And being completely at the mercy of carers, when they decide to turn up.
I never thought caring was an easy job. I've always had respect for people who do it. But I don't think I ever expected it to be this hard. And the thing that makes it so frustrating is that those things that make it hard don't have to be there.
The shift patterns, the travelling and the stress. And most importantly, arriving in situations that you don't feel mentally or practically prepared for. These are the things that make it close to impossible. And it's not a surprise that there aren't enough carers in this country.
I'm never going to forget the people that I've met. There are going to be a lot of the people that I've cared for that I will always wonder about.
And that, as an experience is never ever going to leave me. Some of the things that I've seen and some of the things that people have said to me are going to haunt me for the rest of my life.