The government has failed to provide NHS workers with the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) they need. In Social care the situation is even worse. Government negligence, incompetence and callous disregard for safety has put tens of thousands of lives unnecessarily at risk from coronavirus.
In a survey carried out by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN):
- One in eight nurses reported relying on face or eye protection that was homemade or that they had bought themselves, while only half believe they have an adequate supply of alcohol hand gel.
- Half of all respondents have felt pressure to care for a patient without the protection outlined in current PPE guidance.
- Of those working in high-risk areas, around half reported being asked to re-use items of PPE that were marked as “single-use” by manufacturers.
The situation in Care Homes and other Social care setting is even worse than in the NHS.
Wellcome Trust research has revealed staff shortages, management instructions to ignore social distancing and self-isolation in care homes, an almost complete lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and reports of carers with Covid-19 symptoms being forced to continue working with Britain's most vulnerable people for fear of destitution.
Led by Professor Lydia Hayes of Kent University, the study included evidence gathered from more than 2,500 care workers by public service union Unison.
The Unison survey found that despite weeks of advance warnings to care companies and the government, care staff still lack PPE to protect both themselves and the vulnerable people they care for.
Among reports direct from frontline staff, a manager at one home was said to have banned protective clothing on the grounds that it “scares residents.”
One care worker who asked about PPE because she suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease said: “The manager laughed and told me it’s not going to be like Italy and I was scaremongering.”
Others reported having to work despite showing symptoms of Covid-19 because care-home bosses told them their pay would be stopped.
One carer said: “Staff are at work while ill as they fear losing pay, putting other staff and clients in danger.”
Hundreds of care workers said that staff with Covid-19 symptoms, coughs, colds, asthma and COPD were being told to work.
Some care homes were running out of hand sanitiser and soap, workers reported.
Unison's survey involved 2,600 care staff in over 1,000 residential-care, home-care, and learning-disability support settings.
Professor Hayes said: “A tragedy is unfolding across the Social care sector. Urgent government action is needed.
"If we follow the rhetoric about our national ‘war’ on coronavirus, care workers, care-home residents and other users of care and support services can be said to be unlawfully set up to take a direct hit.
"Care workers are lauded as ‘heroes’ while their rights to health, safety and the protection of life are not prioritised.”
The report, which estimates that two million people, mainly women, work in social care, said: “Unlike NHS provision, adult Social care services are provided in a highly fragmented, privatised and resource-starved market in which staff shortages, breaches of employment rights and understaffing have become the norm.”
A separate joint report by unions and social-service directors, which involved the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, Unison, Unite, GMB, and TUC, warned today that a "critical lack" of PPE and testing has allowed coronavirus to "sweep through" social care.
It also found that staff were being forced to risk their lives to care for people receiving care.
“Social care is facing a crisis without precedent,” it said. “Many care-home residents and care workers have already died.
“When this dreadful pandemic eases the government must learn vital lessons about the failings of a social-care system based on low pay and insecure work and put in place proper funding and a long-term plan for social care as soon as possible.”
Pat Harrington, General Secretary of Solidarity, commented: "Our union has many members who work in Social care. Government guidance does not require PPE to be worn in care homes to attend to non-Covid patients. That's wrong in our view. Wearing PPE should be standard in all Social care settings. Yet the government doesn't have enough PPE to supply the NHS yet alone all those working in Social care and other key workers who need it."
"I heard today that a big shipment of PPE was arriving from Turkey. It's shocking to me that we are reliant on Turkey for this. I just hope that once the current crisis is over we will rethink long supply chains and start to manufacture far more products in Britain, particularly key products like medicines and medical equipment. Let's learn the lessons from this crisis and the failures of our government response."
This article was first published in 'British Worker' the internal newsletter of the Solidarity union.