Wigan care workers tell trade union 'horror stories' of coronavirus front line

Care workers expressed major concerns over a lack of PPECare workers expressed major concerns over a lack of PPE
Care workers expressed major concerns over a lack of PPE | Getty
Unison North West released a selection of dozens of comments sent by employees in the borough expressing alarm at the conditions in which they said they were being expected to do their jobs.

Care workers spoke of having inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE) or being ordered not to wear it in case clients became frightened.

There were also allegations of poor planning, inabilities to maintain social distancing or self-isolation to keep themselves safe as well as receiving changing and varied advice from employers, some of it directly contravening NHS guidelines.

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Unison North West is now urgently calling for better protection and support for employees in the industry, calling some of the responses to its survey "horror stories".

One Wigan care worker told the union: “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.”

Other survey responses received from Wigan employees by Unison included:

“Don’t have PPE. Staff don’t have masks.”

“Lack of hand gel and masks at the start. Only told to wear masks if we suspect someone has CV19, by then we would already have been exposed. Ever changing advice and full risk assessment only sent out to us April 2.”

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“No plans in place for possible outbreak, i.e. preparing areas for isolation of infected service users, No information being passed onto staff regarding what the protocols will be should an infection occur.”

“I was advised to self isolate by NHS 111 after my employer told me I didn’t need to!”

Unison North West said it received 77 replies from the borough to its call-out for first-hand accounts, with more than 2,600 workers across the North West responding.

Those quizzed work in settings including residential care, home care and learning disability support.

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The most common worries across the region were a lack of PPE and concerns about having to go into self-isolation if they fell ill, including whether they would receive full sick pay.

The Wellcome Trust, which produced a report based on the findings, is calling on the Government to ensure care workers receive their normal wages if self-isolating,

Unison is calling on the authorities to take major steps to help, saying gestures such as the recently-announced badge for social care employees are not enough.

Unison North West regional organiser Dan Smith said: “This shows how care workers are not being supported to stop the spread of coronavirus.

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“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."

Wigan Council spoke of the work it is doing to get PPE to front-line workers and said it wanted to speak to Unison North West about its findings.

A spokesperson said: “Wigan Council continues to make very regular PPE deliveries to social care organisations across the borough and the high level of support provided has been reflected by the number of compliments we’ve received from providers praising Wigan’s efforts.

"We have also offered testing out to providers and their front line staff, including a home testing pilot.

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“The survey was conducted at a regional level as opposed to a local level and therefore we were not made aware of it. We will be looking to follow up with Unison representatives to seek clarity and update where necessary.”