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Coronavirus: Care home workers fear for their safety – union

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The union says staff have been asked to work even if they live with vulnerable self-isolating people
The union says staff have been asked to work even if they live with vulnerable self-isolating people

HAMPSHIRE carers are concerned about their “unsafe working conditions” amid the coronavirus outbreak, according to a union.

It has been claimed that carers working in county council-run care homes are able to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) including face masks only if dealing with patients who either have Covid-19 or show symptoms, writes Maria Zaccaro of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

Unison, the trade union which represents Hampshire County Council workers, said frontline staff have also been asked to continue to work even if they live with vulnerable people who are shielding at home.

The county council said the safety of its staff remains a priority.

But Hampshire Unison branch secretary Callum Williamson is now calling on HCC and the government to ensure every carer has access to the right equipment.

He said: “Our members in care homes across the county are telling us they are very concerned about unsafe working conditions.

“We have members going in to work in care homes where there are suspected and confirmed cases and who are only able to wear masks when working with specific residents.

“Given that effective isolation of residents is so difficult, given the virus’s incubation period, and given that those affected can be asymptomatic, we believe that this is inadequate.”

Mr Williamson said the union was well aware of the national shortages of PPE.

But he added: “Employers need to publicly acknowledge the current risk to staff. Another issue raised by our members is that frontline staff with vulnerable family members shielding at home are being expected to come to work.

“This is putting our members in an incredibly difficult position. We have asked HCC to allow members of staff in this situation to be able to remain at home – this has been refused. We know there are staff shortages but staff should not be expected to put their families at risk.”

Graham Allen, HCC director of adults’ health and care, said staff are being supported to follow the government and Public Health England guidance.

This includes frontline staff wearing “specification-compliant masks”, Mr Allen said.

He added: “The safety of our staff, their loved ones and the individuals we support is our priority. We know that this is a worrying time and many people are feeling anxious.

“Our continued efforts to keep our staff and wider communities safe includes ensuring that any frontline staff who live with someone who is shielding are supported to follow the appropriate government guidance.”

The council said its approach will remain under review should any guidance change.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are determined to give the social care sector the support it needs and we recently announced £2.9bn to help local authorities respond to pressures in key services.

“We have published extensive guidance for care homes and local authorities on how they can best prioritise the workforce in their area.”

The department said 7.8 million pieces of PPE have been provided to more than 26,000 care homes across the country.

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