More than 2600 care workers have responded to a UNISON North West survey and shared the shocking truth about the lack of support for care staff during the ongoing public health crisis.
A large majority of the care workers - who work in over 1000 different settings across residential care, home care and learning disability support – said that their employers were not doing enough to keep them and the people they care for safe.
The survey is part of UNISON North West’s recently launched Care Workers Vs COVID-19 campaign, which sets out to ensure that care staff can protect themselves at work and come together to secure the resources they need to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The UNISON survey’s responses have been analysed by the Wellcome Trust research team, which has produced a full report. The key issues facing care workers in the North West are: a severe lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); an inability to self-isolate if necessary due to a lack of sick pay and many other health and safety issues which put both service users and care workers at risk.
The most widespread concern reported by survey respondents across all care-settings was a lack of PPE. One care worker said: “When I enquired 3 weeks ago about extra PPE [the manager] laughed and told me it's not going to be like Italy, and I was scaremongering. Then she was unable to get enough PPE for all staff, despite knowing I have COPD, I wasn't offered any.”
Worryingly, another carer wrote: “We are told we are not allowed to wear PPE due to it scaring the people we support. We are not being able to social distance whilst in work due to the amount of staff [on duty].”
Whilst another care worker stated that: “we have no hand sanitiser and are running out of soap.”
Another huge issue for care workers who completed the survey was the fear that they would be unable to self-isolate due to COVID-19 as a result of the lack of comprehensive sick pay schemes in the sector, which could put vulnerable staff and service users at risk if unwell carers continued to attend work.
8 out of 10 care workers think they will not be paid their normal wages if they have to self-isolate due to COVID-19. The Wellcome Trust report recommends that UK Government act urgently to ensure that care workers receive their normal wage incomes when in self-isolation.
One North West-based carer summed up the issue: “Staff are at work while ill as they fear losing pay, putting other staff and clients in danger.”
Another care worker explained: ““After being in contact with someone in the home who had COVID-19 and passed away we are not in isolation, management haven’t even contacted me to tell me he had it and passed and they are aware we do not have any protective wear. I also don’t get any sick pay so I should be in isolation but can’t.”
Hundreds of care workers were also concerned about other health and safety issues which make it virtually impossible to follow Government guidance on self-isolation, shielding and social distancing during the pandemic.
One care worker laid the issue out in detail: “We have no policies in place. [There are] more people in the building than normal. So we cant follow the social distancing advice. Been told we still have to come to work even if family members are showing symptoms. We have to come even if we have colds or coughs. Also, the people in the high risk categories that have been told not to work, have to work. [These are] people with asthma and COPD.”
UNISON North West regional organiser Dan Smith said: “This survey and accompanying report show how care workers are not being supported to stop the spread of coronavirus. Applause, badges and plaudits mean nothing if care workers are unable to do their jobs without putting their own life- and the lives of their service users- at risk.
“We launched the Care Workers vs COVID-19 campaign to ensure that care workers have the tools to protect our communities and also to protect themselves. Our petition has already exceeded 5000 signatures in a short time.
“We’re calling on councils across the North West to deliver for care workers in their areas by ensuring that any care worker forced to self-isolate due to COVID-19 receives full normal pay. This will protect care workers, their families and those they care for. This can be done- we commend the excellent work by Salford UNISON and Salford Council which guarantees that care workers are able to self-isolate if they need to. We call on all North West councils to make this commitment and to sign the Care Workers vs COVID-19 pledge.”
The Wellcome Trust report’s Principal Investigator Professor Lydia 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.”