Care workers put at risk by lack of face masks and basic safety kit, says UNISON

Social care workers across the country are at breaking point with many being given just plastic aprons and gloves to protect against coronavirus as they support the vulnerable and elderly, says UNISON today (Tuesday).

Care workers say some managers are either refusing to issue face masks or not providing training in how to use them, and not supplying hand sanitiser.

This has triggered widespread anxiety among staff that they and their families may become infected or they may spread the virus among the people they care for, says UNISON.

The union has also received reports of some employees being asked to work even if they have underlying health issues, and to bring their children in if they cannot get childcare.

In one case, a care home worker was told he and colleagues would have to nurse residents who become sick despite not being issued with proper personal protective equipment (PPE).

He said: “When I walk through my work doors, it’s as though there’s no such thing as a global pandemic happening on the outside. I’m coming home to a 22-month-old every day and am so anxious going to work. The managers are even suggesting we take our children in if we can’t find childcare.”

Another worker in a children’s home revealed she has only been issued with gloves and is down to her last bottle of hand sanitiser. She added: “I’ve shared my own bottle of sanitiser with young people and colleagues, and only have enough to last one more shift. I worry I may take the virus home and give it my elderly mother.”

Another major concern among care staff in residential homes and those supporting people in their own accommodation is that advice from managers differs from the official government guidance on PPE.

One support worker said: “There’s a woman with dementia (and symptoms) who doesn’t cover her mouth when coughing and constantly tries to touch staff. I believe there’s a high risk of droplet transfer and have asked for eye-protection or a full-face visor only to be told they’re not required.”

Other issues include families still being allowed by managers to make daily visits to residents, despite official restrictions limiting movement and social interaction.

Local councils commission home and residential care from thousands of different private and not-for-profit providers. The concern is this fragmented, understaffed and underfunded system is struggling to cope with the coronavirus crisis, says UNISON.

UNISON northern regional secretary Clare Williams said: “Care workers are being treated as though their safety and that of their loved ones doesn’t matter.

“They feel they’ve been forgotten about and are at the bottom of the pile despite doing a vital job. Many are being denied access to vital protective kit that helps prevent the spread of the virus to them, their families and the people they look after.

“A more co-ordinated approach is needed desperately, with managers all following official guidance. Every care worker who needs masks and other safety gear must be supplied with it as a matter of urgency.”

Notes to editors:

– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in both the public and private sectors.

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