Protection equipment for care workers is essential, says UNISON

Social care staff looking after the elderly and vulnerable are ‘frightened and frustrated’ at not getting access to protective equipment, says UNISON today (Wednesday).

The union has received reports from workers that employers are denying them masks and basic protection such as hand gel, and that supplies of other kit are running low. These safety essentials are vital in cutting the risk of them infecting the frail people they support, says UNISON.

Some staff have been driven to tears for fear they will infect their own families. One care worker, whose daughter has underlying health issues, said: “I feel guilty that I’ll be the one who puts her life at risk, every time I go to look after someone else’s parent.”

UNISON is urging employees to call the new government hotline set up to ensure personal protection equipment (PPE) reaches care workers who need it. This includes anyone who is experiencing shortages or no safety kit at all, and those concerned they are not receiving the correct guidance.

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.

UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Care workers and their employers have huge concerns about getting their hands on the equipment they need. It’s too easy for staff to fall through the net given councils are dealing with many different care providers.

“Supplies for the NHS have rightly been given a lot of attention. But any shortages in social care are equally crucial. Solving this problem could help reassure thousands of care staff that they’re not putting themselves or the people they look after at risk.”

“We’d urge everyone who has a concern about PPE to call the new government hotline. This way we can ensure all providers have adequate supplies to protect staff and the people they care for.”

Notes to editors:
– Comments received by UNISON from care staff:
One home care worker said: “Me and my colleagues are frightened and frustrated. We’re told we can only have protective masks if someone is showing signs of coronavirus or has it. This is far too late. It feels as though we’re not important as long as the shifts are covered. I find myself crying before my shift and worried going home to my loved ones. My daughter, who lives with me, has underlying health issues. I feel guilty that I’ll be the one who puts her life at risk, every time I go to look after someone else’s parent. I’m not trying to shirk my duties – I love my job. But I’m worried to the point my mental health is being affected.”

Another employee at a council-run care home said: “We asked for masks been told no one is allowed to use them as no service user has coronavirus yet. It’s very distressing because the people we care for are not in control of their bodily functions, such as sneezing and coughing. We see updates on the news about the virus daily. But I fear our management team are dictating when we should take the right precautions.”

Other feedback includes: “We have no hand gel, gloves and aprons are running low, and none of us have masks. Our health is at risk.”

– Guidance from Public Health England says care staff “will be trained in hand hygiene”. It goes on: “Much of the care delivered in care homes will require close personal contact. Where a resident is showing symptoms of COVID-19, steps should be taken to minimise the risk of transmission through safe working procedures. Staff should use personal protective equipment (PPE) for activities that bring them into close personal contact, such as washing and bathing, personal hygiene and contact with bodily fluids. Aprons, gloves and fluid repellent surgical masks should be used in these situations. If there is a risk of splashing, then eye protection will minimise risk.”

– 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.