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Feature: Support worker told to ‘get masks from builders merchant’

Carers working on the frontline of the coronavirus outbreak are having to source their own Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), a support worker has revealed.

The Scottish Government has announced new measures to get PPE to health and social care workers. While in England, a carer who works 24-hour shifts supporting adults with severe learning disabilities said she has been forced to provide her own equipment.

The support worker, who wished to remain anonymous, told Social Care Today that her employer had failed to provide her team with hand sanitiser and had suggested they buy their own masks from the builders merchant.

‘We’ve got nothing.

‘There are gloves in the house which we’ve always used for personal care, but no masks, nothing to actually protect us. We haven’t even got hand gel. I bought my own disinfectant and I’ve been using that to clean all the door handles in the house.

‘I saw the lockdown coming so I got in contact with my employer a few weeks ago and asked if they would be providing us with protective equipment. They told me I could get some masks from the builder’s merchant.

‘I told my employer we’ve got no ID so we’ve no way of proving that we are key workers if we get stopped on our way to or from work.

‘They eventually sent us a letter on NHS-headered paper that explained that we are key workers. I keep that in my car along with a payslip and a P60 just in case, I can’t risk not being allowed to go to work.’

All carers feel the same

According to guidance issued by NHS England on Saturday (March 28) the recommended PPE for healthcare workers, including staff working in community care settings and care homes, working within one metre of a patient with possible or confirmed COVID-19, is a fluid repellent facemask, an apron, gloves and eye protection if there is a risk of splashing or exposure to respiratory droplets.

Without the correct equipment, the support worker said she risks being exposed to the virus every time she comes into work.

She said it is impossible for her team to enforce the lockdown because the service users cannot be in the house together during the day. She said her colleague has to take one service user for a walk or a drive, exposing them both to the virus which can easily be brought back into the house.

‘We can’t keep them in the house together during the days. They can’t tolerate having two carers in the house at the same time, it’s very distressing for them and they will start smashing things.

‘Before the outbreak, my colleague would have taken them to a day centre, now he has to take them out for a drive or a walk which is exposing them both the virus.

‘They don’t have the capacity to understand how serious the situation is, and we don’t have the power to stop them if they want to go out. There is nothing in place to protect us in this situation.

‘They are both very tactile people, so they’ll grab you for a cuddle, which is lovely, but if they’ve got it there’s no way to stop them passing it on.

‘One of my children has asthma and I’m terrified I’ll expose them to the virus somehow. I can’t not do my job though, it’s my responsibility.

‘I think all carers feel the same. We’re worried about our service users, but we’re worried about getting it ourselves and bringing it back to our families. We need to be able to protect our selves, we need PPE.’

A dangerous job

Last week health bosses promised that care providers would receive PPE by the end of this week.

A spokesman for NHS England said supplies of the ‘FFP3’ sterile facemasks were being delivered to NHS Trusts, including ambulance trusts, while home care providers, care homes, and hospices would receive at least 300 facemasks each.

However, a spokesman for the Local Government Association said reporting that equipment has been delivered to providers did not tally with colleagues’ experience on the ground

The LGA said it had written to the Department of Health and Social Care and health secretary Matt Hancock urging government to move faster in making PPE available for the adult social care sector.

‘Social care is at the frontline of responding to the unique challenges posed by Covid-19 and the workforce is doing an incredible job in extremely testing circumstances.

‘It is also doing a dangerous job, with colleagues putting themselves, their families and their communities at risk. Ensuring their safety must be the number one priority alongside the safety of those they are supporting.

‘We continue to receive daily reports from colleagues that essential supplies are not getting through to the social care frontline. Furthermore, national reporting that equipment has been delivered to providers on the CQC registered list does not tally with colleagues’ experience on the ground.

‘There is a notable lack of confidence in national planning for, and provision of, PPE for the thousands of people who work in non-regulated services, such as personal assistants.

‘The advice they are being given is to contact their local council. To be absolutely clear, councils do not have stocks of PPE equipment to distribute.

‘Finally, the PPE that is supplied must be of acceptable quality and there must be guidance as to its provision and proper use. We have been sent pictures of PPE that is used, dirty and damaged. This cannot and will not be used.

‘The guidance that we know is in development cannot come soon enough.’

Some issues related to supply

Chief medical officer, Stephen Powis, said in a statement issued jointly with Public Health England and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges that ‘ensuring that frontline colleagues have the highest level of protection possible is her top priority’.

‘Every single GP practice, dental practice and community pharmacy has had a PPE delivery. All care homes, hospices and home care providers are also receiving a PPE delivery.

‘We acknowledge there have been some issues related to the supply of equipment and we are working hard and at pace to resolve these.

‘We are now confident that all logistical issues are being solved and that every part of the NHS that needs PPE will be supplied in good time with adequate stock.

‘However, it is important to acknowledge the huge global demand for PPE across the world. The 24/7 NHS Supply Disruption Line email is

‘Trusts should raise non-PPE orders with NHS Supply Chain in the usual way.’

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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