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A CATALOGUE of negligence, government incompetence and callous disregard for safety in care homes is putting tens of thousands of lives unnecessarily at risk from coronavirus, a damning study of the industry revealed today.
The Wellcome Trust research revealed staff shortages, management instructions to ignore social distancing and self-isolation in care homes, an almost complete lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and reports of carers with Covid-19 symptoms being forced to continue working with Britain's most vulnerable people for fear of destitution.
Led by Professor Lydia Hayes of Kent University, the study included evidence gathered from more than 2,500 care workers by public service union Unison.
The Unison survey found that despite weeks of advance warnings to care companies and the government, care staff are still woefully short of PPE to protect both themselves and the vulnerable people they care for.
Among reports direct from frontline staff, a manager at one home was said to have banned protective clothing on the grounds that it “scares residents.”
One care worker who asked about PPE because she suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease said: “The manager laughed and told me it’s not going to be like Italy and I was scaremongering.”
Others reported having to work despite showing symptoms of Covid-19 because care-home bosses told them their pay would be stopped.
One carer said: “Staff are at work while ill as they fear losing pay, putting other staff and clients in danger.”
Another carer who dealt with an elderly Covid-19 victim who died said she had no PPE and added: “I also don’t get any sick pay so I should be in isolation but can’t.”
Hundreds of care workers said that staff with Covid-19 symptoms, coughs, colds, asthma and COPD were being told to work.
Some care homes were running out of hand sanitiser and soap, workers reported.
The report also reveals that statutory inspections of care homes have been suspended during the crisis
Unison's survey involved 2,600 care staff in over 1,000 residential-care, home-care and learning-disability support settings.
Professor 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.”
The report’s recommendations include the urgent appointment of frontline care staff “to problem-solving roles at national and local government level” making vital decisions on distribution of PPE and use of staff.
The report, which estimates that two million people, mainly women, work in social care, said: “Unlike NHS provision, adult social-care services are provided in a highly fragmented, privatised and resource-starved market in which staff shortages, breaches of employment rights and understaffing have become the norm.”
A separate joint report by unions and social-service directors, which involved the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, Unison, Unite, GMB and TUC, warned today that a "critical lack" of PPE and testing has allowed coronavirus to "sweep through" social care.
It also found that staff were being forced to risk their lives to care for people receiving care.
“Social care is facing a crisis without precedent,” it said. “Many care-home residents and care workers have already died.
“When this dreadful pandemic eases the government must learn vital lessons about the failings of a social-care system based on low pay and insecure work and put in place proper funding and a long-term plan for social care as soon as possible.”
Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “I think the public’s patience with ministers is wearing very thin as they continue to say that there is enough PPE in the system, when there are numerous reports from frontline staff that this is simply not the case."
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