Frustration as care workers and community nurses still lack protective gear

Care workers and community nurses are still struggling to do their jobs safely and with adequate protective gear, with experts saying they are “frustrated at the lack of pace”.

Weeks into the coronavirus pandemic, unions said many care home workers remain without masks or hand sanitiser, with just plastic aprons and gloves for protection.

The PA news agency has heard examples of face masks being rationed out among workers due to short supply.

In one case, a care home worker with a 22-month-old child was told he and colleagues would have to nurse sick residents despite not being issued with proper personal protective equipment (PPE), the union Unison said.

Another worker in a children’s home, who is down to her last bottle of hand sanitiser, said: “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.”

Unison assistant general secretary Christina McAnea 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.”

The GMB union said it is receiving hundreds of calls a day from social care workers concerned about a lack of PPE, while staff are sometimes expected to turn up even if they have Covid-19 symptoms.

Kelly Andrews, GMB care lead, said: “Our members are facing the prospect of putting themselves and their families’ lives at risk.

“If they are lucky they will be given a cheap plastic apron and a pair of gloves, the same protection that they use to make a sandwich.”

Care homes, nursing homes and hospices have all reported being affected by a PPE shortage, as well as reductions in staff.

The Sue Ryder palliative care charity said it was experiencing “worrying” levels of staff shortages as employees self-isolate with suspected coronavirus.

It does not have enough personal protective equipment for its community and hospice nurses and orders it places “continue to not be fulfilled”, it said.

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “It is completely unacceptable that weeks into this crisis there would be nursing staff working in care homes or other community settings without personal protective equipment.

“They are just as vulnerable as those in hospital wards – they all work less than a metre away from potentially infected patients.

“Guidance for social care settings may be imminent, but we have been raising this point for weeks. I am frustrated at the lack of pace.

“Every minute we wait for guidance is a minute too long. All nursing staff, no matter where they work, must feel safe. We need action, we need equipment, we need it now.”

Marie Curie chief executive Matthew Reed said: “Unfortunately, we are experiencing the same issues with PPE as our partners in the NHS and community care.

“We are screening patients with a phone call before attending their homes for night visits and if any patients are experiencing symptoms, our nursing staff will go in with appropriate PPE equipment

“However, we can only do this when we have the right PPE equipment available. The safety of our patients and staff is of the utmost importance and our nurses and healthcare assistants always take the necessary steps required to protect themselves and those in their care.”

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: “Care home staff deserve a lot of recognition for their work during the coronavirus crisis – many are living full-time in the homes where they work, and ensuring that residents don’t feel isolated while their relatives can’t visit.

“Staff shortages make this even harder, and clearly there should be full protection available for staff and residents, for the sake of everyone’s health.”