A day in the life of a Herriot Healthcare Assistant
This Dying Matters Awareness Week, Herriot Hospice Homecare Healthcare Assistant Inga McCafferty talks through a day in the life of her role as part of her invaluable work with our HOME service.
As the sun rises over the Yorkshire Dales, Inga is getting her “Herriot hat on” as she calls it, and proudly dressing in her neatly pressed Herriot white and bottle green tunic. Compassion and professionalism are at the heart of Inga’s approach to her role, and this starts with presenting a professional image to those she cares for.
Inga, who has dedicated 30 years of her career to caring so far, is one of a team of healthcare assistants covering Hambleton and Richmondshire, an area of over 1,000 square miles of rural North Yorkshire, who provide care for people living with terminal illness and bereavement in the comfort of their own homes.
Today, she leaves her home at 6.50am – “too early for breakfast” - and grabs a snack bar and a banana to keep her going. With a long drive ahead of her, Inga reaches her first patient's house, towards Ripon, at 8am. Here, she is joined by a colleague from Harrogate District Saint Michael’s Hospice, part of the same family of services, who will support Inga with the patient’s care. While in their cars, the pair don masks and goggles, then collect other items and PPE which will be needed once in the patient’s home, such aprons and gloves.
Preparation for the day ahead started yesterday evening, when Inga carefully checked the care plans of the people she would visit today, reading ] updates added from colleagues and the District Nurse who collaborates daily with the team. She created a file for any new patients and prepared any equipment, ready to head off in the morning.
Working a variety of shifts during each week, Inga says: “No two days or evenings are the same. I provide care to patients with a variety of illnesses including cancer, motor neurone disease, heart failure, end-stage Alzheimer's, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and we are extremely person centric in our care. It’s always based around the personal choices and needs of the patient and discussed closely with them and their families.”
Inga meets many loving families and friends, and she feels her role is to enable them to make the most of the time they have together with their loved ones.
“During my first visit to someone who is newly referred to Herriot, I am always extremely sensitive as it can be such a difficult time for them and their families. I explain how their care plan has been assessed and discuss their individual preferences, which includes how often and when we will visit, to ensure it works well for them and the people around them. We build a relationship and it’s important that it’s one of trust, understanding and compassion.”
Inga’s priority is to ensure her patient is as comfortable as possible and she explains that this means different things to different people, with simple tasks making such a difference. She says: “It’s important for people that they are still able to be part of the decision-making processes and choose elements of care that will mean the most to them. For example, many people enjoy us cleaning their hair using a special no rinse shampoo cap – offering lovely things like that can be a real boost for patients.
“A lot of the day-to-day support we provide is assistance with personal care and hygiene, such as helping to brush a patient’s teeth with a soft brush. We often work in pairs across our team, so we can support patients to move more easily together.”
Inga can wear lots of different “Herriot hats” during each day, drawing on her experience to tailor her approach to support each family and for each visit, depending on what feels right.
“The mood can be lighter, and we try to bring a little bit of joy with us. There is often laughter – from both a patient and their family – during a visit. Sometimes the grieving process has already started, and people are anxious or tearful. It can be a very emotive time and we are there to listen too.”
This morning, there is sad news as Inga arrives to hear that her patient has died a short time before. Inga explains: “I offered my condolences to his family and helped in any practical way that I could. Often, at this time, the family can appreciate us gently washing and dressing their loved one into clothes that are meaningful. We can also offer bereavement support with our Just ‘B’ service, which we know is helpful to so many people, even if it’s later down the line.”
Inga says she considers her job a privilege; “My role is to bring peace and compassion. When a family knows that their loved one is close to the end and is being well cared for, it can ease the way. It’s such an honour to support a family at such a poignant time and very rewarding to know that we have been of comfort to them.”
Working in a committed and skilled team also helps as they support each other, says Inga.
“Our team works very well together, and I like that everyone is different and brings something special to the role. Our way of working means that we have a lot of support to ensure that we can be reactive to the needs of a patient and consistently deliver high quality care.”
As Inga continues with her day, she travels almost 150 miles, providing care to a further six people, spending time with each individual, offering comfort and tending to their needs. Working closely with the district nursing team, Inga carefully updates care plans for each patient as she goes - ensuring that the latest information is available to all the health care professionals collaborating to provide care.
By home time, Inga is ready to sit down with a hot coffee and relax, cuddled up with Dexter, her ginger and white cat, to watch TV. Meditation helps her to rebalance after the long shifts, and she heads off for a good night sleep, ready for the next day.
Thanks to the kindness and professionalism of our team like Inga, along with the support of volunteers and generosity of our community, Herriot Hospice Homecare is able to continue providing high quality care, comfort and support to people with terminal illness and bereavement in their own homes, surrounded by the people and things that matter the most.
Find out more about our services at www.herriothh.org.uk/services.Blog Posted 13th May 2021