Coronavirus: Home care workers left 'unfairly exposed'

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Carer with gloves onImage source, Getty Images

Home care workers on the Covid-19 frontline have been left "unfairly exposed" by a lack of personal protective equipment.

Scottish Care also warned that a reduction in demand was leaving firms in an "extremely precarious position".

Last week, figures revealed that 128 people had died of confirmed or suspected coronavirus at home.

Nicola Sturgeon insisted a "belt and braces" approach to securing more equipment was under way.

The first minister told Holyrood that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was now being delivered directly to care homes as well as regional hubs, and that NHS officials were working around the clock to find more supplies amid huge global demand.

Scottish Care said more people were supported at home any day of the week than in hospitals and care homes combined.

But it said home care organisations faced "ongoing challenges" to meet current guidance.

Image source, Getty Images

A Scottish Care statement said: "We want to see a similar move to direct delivery of PPE to home care providers and access to supplies beyond those required in emergencies for suspected or confirmed Covid-19 cases.

"It must be recognised in supply allocations that home care staff support many individuals across the course of their shift, often visiting the same people on multiple occasions, which leads to an increased need to change PPE more regularly."

The representative body for independent social care services also expressed concern over reports that some members supported individuals in their own homes alongside colleagues with "significantly different" PPE.

The statement added: "This leaves staff feeling unfairly exposed."

'Unheard of'

Scottish Care said there was evidence some Health and Social Care Partnerships were providing PPE for in-house staff but not making it available for organisations delivering care on behalf of the partnership.

Several home care members have also seen a drop of between 10% and 15% in the care hours they deliver, with one reporting 126 vacant hours for this week.

The statement said: "These figures are unheard of when demand for home care usually significantly outstrips supply.

"This is as a result of cancelled visits both by partnerships and individuals who fund their own care, often because family members are not currently working or are working from home and are therefore able to step in to provide care."

In addition, social work assessments are not being carried out as planned, therefore delaying or limiting the provision of new or additional support to individuals who require it.

'Extremely precarious position'

Scottish Care warned: "Not only does this place organisations in an extremely precarious position, in a sector where sustainability can balance on a knife edge of care hours at the best of times because of the commissioning and procurement climate, but it risks the jobs and financial sustainability of thousands of vital care workers where they are willing but unable to undertake their usual hours."

The body also highlighted the fact that some areas were continuing to operate minute-by-minute billing for commissioned home care visits through electronic call-monitoring systems.

This does not allow for extended visits, to operate stricter hygiene and PPE protocols, and results in financial penalties for the home care provider.

Finally, it called for enhanced testing access for health and social care staff and for care home residents.

The Scottish government said that more than 17 million items of PPE for social care providers had been delivered to over 1,000 locations across the country so far.

Quizzed on PPE provision for care homes, Ms Sturgeon told MSPs the Scottish government had made "significant changes to distribution" in a bid to address concerns over supplies.

'Belt and braces'

She said: "We are trying as far as possible to take a belt and braces approach to this while putting a safety net in place so any care home worker who feels they don't have enough, they have somewhere to go.

"But I will never ever stand up here and say PPE is not an issue we need to continue to look at on a day-to-day basis."

Ms Sturgeon added that care home providers also "have a responsibility to their staff" when it comes to providing safety equipment.

Robert Kilgour, chairman of the Renaissance Care group, said two of his homes, had received direct deliveries of face masks, gloves and aprons from the Scottish government.

He said: "So far obtaining our PPE has been a case of scrambling around and approaching contacts from construction companies and dentists to nail salons and opticians cap in hand.

"When mainstream suppliers have any PPE, prices have often been through the roof.

"Our supplies were running desperately low, and these deliveries take the pressure off our people and allow them to focus 100% on caring for our residents. They are very welcome indeed."

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