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Page last updated at 10:35 GMT, Thursday, 9 April 2009 11:35 UK
Britain's Homecare Scandal

By Arifa Farooq
BBC Panorama

Arifa Farooq
Arifa Farooq described her first day on the job as "shambolic"

Reporter Arifa Farooq describes her experiences as an undercover carer for the elderly at Glasgow's Domiciliary Care.

Golden oldies, pensioners, OAPs - generic terms that we hear all the time but do not think twice about. We all have older relatives, but you tend to see your granny as somehow being different.

Older people are - in the main - a quiet and private bunch. We seldom pay them much attention and are only aware of issues affecting them when harsh winter weather or pensions are in the news.

When I was asked to go undercover as a carer, I was apprehensive. I would be going into people's homes while employed as their carer and filming secretly. It raised many difficulties.

As a precaution, the BBC arranged for my colleague Hayley and I to be thoroughly trained by a team from Age Concern Training.

Over several days, they taught us everything we would need to meet and exceed the national minimum standards for new carers.

It included moving and handling frail people, monitoring, medication and hands-on training. We took turns to be washed, rolled, fed and dressed.

There was no time for the human touch - to sit and simply chat. Time is money in the care business these days, and you have got to keep moving

I was now ready to take up employment with a company in Glasgow called Domiciliary Care - one of Scotland's leading homecare and award-winning providers according to their website.

But as an undercover carer - working for £5.85 an hour - I came face to face with the reality behind those fancy words and high ideals.

My first day on the job can only be summed up as shambolic.

Carers gathered in a car park at 0745 not knowing who we would be working with, where we were going or which clients were to be visited much less what type of care they might need.

Feeling completely unprepared, I relied heavily on the clients to tell me what they needed from me - a real worry if they struggled to communicate or had dementia.

Medication concerns

After a few shifts, having so little information was beginning to concern me, particularly when it involved medication.

Jim Wilson
Andrew Wilson, 78, was a client of Domiciliary Care

On one occasion, I was told a client needed basic personal care. It turned out she needed to also be reminded to take medication after being newly released from hospital and did not have a care plan in her home.

It is a requirement in both England and Scotland that a care plan for each client is kept in the home with a copy at head office.

But in my experience, several of the clients I was visiting either did not have a care plan, or they were out of date. Care plans complete with their personal details were strewn all over company cars used to ferry carers around.

These are legal documents and yet a colleague openly described throwing them out the last time she cleaned out her car.

Ironically, at my training with this company - which was easily as rigorous as that provided by Age Concern Training - new recruits were all specifically told by the director that we must take time to read care plans.

But that was the classroom - the reality was very different.

As I became more experienced, I was given more calls to carry out.

Worst moment

At one point I had to do three half-hour lunch calls between 1200 and 1300. I was so rushed that I struggled to give clients their appointed time.

But my worst moment was still to come.

The saddest part of my whole experience was how grateful people were that I had come in to see them at all, even if it was for just 10 minutes with me dashing about the entire time

I was sent to care for a terminally ill man. He was completely bed bound and doubly incontinent. I, along with another carer (we were the two most inexperienced out of that particular group of carers), were sent to give him a bed bath and change his sheets.

This man could not raise himself and so was extremely heavy to move. At the time he was suffering from diarrhoea, his skin was so delicate that he had sores that constantly wept. He was in immeasurable pain, the slightest movement made him scream in agony.

I quickly realised that we could not do this job with only two people and that we needed support. I tried to contact the team senior, leaving messages to say we needed help urgently, but to no avail. We were left on our own to cope as best we could. But our best was simply not good enough. We struggled to clean him so he was not left lying in his own excrement but without additional help, we caused him unnecessary pain and distress.

This undercover assignment was an emotional rollercoaster.

Lifeline to the outside

We had been told before we went undercover that carers really make a difference to people's quality of life. Many of the people I met had no family or friends close by and see no one beyond their carers from one day to the next. As carers, we would be their lifeline to the outside world.

But working for Domiciliary Care (Scotland) in South Lanarkshire, I faced such immense time pressure - I barely had time to say hello before I was heading out the door again and on to the next call.

blurred images of carers
Carers gathered in a parking lot waiting for their day's work

My colleagues in South Lanarkshire were only too aware that they were providing substandard care and were clearly frustrated with the way the company was run.

My abiding memory of my time as a carer in South Lanarkshire will be of rushing in and out of people's homes like a robot programmed to work on high speed. There was no time for the human touch - to sit and simply chat. Time is money in the care business these days, and you have got to keep moving.

The saddest part of my whole experience was how grateful people were that I had come in to see them at all, even if it was for just 10 minutes with me dashing about the entire time.

These people have lived full lives and deserve better in their old age. I would say that using the word "care" to describe the poor service we were providing is a joke - except it is not funny.

Diary of an undercover carer
Thursday, 9 April 2009, 10:34 GMT |  Panorama
Firms reply to Panorama
Thursday, 9 April 2009, 07:43 GMT |  Panorama
Video Extras
Thursday, 9 April 2009, 17:34 GMT |  Panorama



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