The local train in Bristol again.
“What do you do?” I ask the twenty-something woman sitting next to me.
“I support people to live independently in their homes,” she says.
“What kinds of people?”
“Elderly people, people with dementia, people with physical and learning difficulties.”
“So what’s your job title?” I ask.
“Home Care Assistant.”
“And what do you do on a daily basis?”
“We assist with daily living tasks – getting up, getting washed, dressed, having breakfast brushing hair, any laundry. That sort of thing.”
“And how many people do you visit a day?”
“Tell me a story,” I say.
She thinks briefly, aware of the limited time the short journey allows and says, “I went to see someone last night and she thought I was trying to burgle her…”
“Did she know you were coming?” I ask.
“Yep, we’re there same time every time,” she pauses and then says, “a better story though… I was driving in to work and saw an elderly woman running across the road. I thought it looked like one of our residents, then saw a crowd of staff running after her. She was trying to get to the supermarket.”
“At one of the residences there was a lady who used to pack her suitcases every night because she thought she was going to Butlins. She’d beat us off with a stick if we tried to stop her. The building was in a square and she just walked round and round. Only way you could console her was if you got her into the dining room and gave her a guinness.”
I ask how it is that her job title is Home Care Assistant if she works in residential homes. She explains that she used to work in residential homes but changed job so the hours were better.
“A resident went missing once. Staff searched every room, as well as the grounds, but couldn’t find her. The police were called. They got a helicopter out. After half an hour, turned out she was hiding behind a bathroom door. And the helicopter cost like two grand – that was the same woman who’d been running to Morrisons.”
“Do you think you’ll do it forever?” I ask.
“No,” she replies.
“And how long have you been doing it?”
“Six years on and off.”
“Who was the most memorable resident?”
“I actually know the answer to that straight away. It was a woman who lived in the first care home I worked at. She used to call me ‘mum.’ Wouldn’t let anyone else care for her. We had a really good rapport. Then she died. That was the first time I saw a dead body too.”
I find it interesting someone can be so casual about death. I ask how many dead people she’s seen since. She says lots and I think how interesting it is that most of us very rarely come into contact with the dead.
“Will the job be any different next year?” I ask.
“As of April, we’ll no longer be providing a service for people other than those with dementia. So all the other categories of people we support will no longer receive that support. Not just the elderly and people with physical and learning difficulties – for example, there was a young woman who got stabbed in Stockwood the other month – in her shoulder and side four or five times – and we helped her dress and wash herself afterwards because she couldn’t lift her arms. That won’t happen. – Rehabilitation will no longer be something we do past six weeks. There’s a separate service – a short term assessment and re-enablement service. They’ll assess what help people might need. We’ll give care for the first six weeks as per the one-year trial we’ve done. Our long-term care for people other than dementia sufferers will stop. It’ll be done by agencies.”