Coronavirus in Scotland: Agreement reached over care worker face masks

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Female medic in a maskImage source, Getty Images
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Unions had been concerned that some care workers did not have proper protective equipment

An agreement has been reached over the equipment that social care staff should wear to help protect themselves and others from coronavirus.

The GMB union had accused the Scottish government of forcing carers to work with insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE).

The concerns had largely centred on guidance over the use of masks.

But after a meeting with the government on Wednesday, the GMB said staff would now get full protective equipment.

Unions had been concerned by Scottish guidance which they said recommended that home care staff should only wear a mask when the person they were caring for was suspected of having Covid-19 and they were coming within two metres (6ft) of them.  

They said this was a change to the original guidance which had been issued to the whole of the UK, and had left Scottish home and social care workers at greater risk.

The unions had called on the government to ensure that all PPE given to health and social carer workers met the internationally recognised standards set down by the World Health Organisation

Now unions, the Scottish government and Cosla - the umbrella body which represents Scotland's councils - have reached an agreement on what protective equipment social care staff should wear, and when.

The government said a joint statement would be issued making it clear that carers could wear masks whenever they felt it was appropriate.

'Sufficient stocks'

GMB Scotland organiser Drew Duffy said his expectation was that social carers would now get "the full and proper PPE, specifically masks - as per the four nations guidance - of which ministers assure us they have sufficient stocks."

Mr Duffy said it was the government's responsibility to get these stocks to employers and carers as quickly as possible, and warned that further detail on testing was still needed.

He added: "We will rigorously monitor the receipt of these vital and potentially life-saving resources.

"The point of frustration is that the commitments given today could have been given to us weeks ago. It shouldn't take a point of crisis to bring people together, especially when the willingness was there from the outset."

A spokesman for the Scottish government said the safety of health and social care workers was "paramount".

He added: "The guidance published on 2 April and agreed by the four nations remains in place and all health and social care staff will continue to have access to appropriate PPE where they need it.

"The Scottish government will agree a joint statement with Cosla and trades unions to underline that social care staff can wear protective masks where they feel appropriate in line with their professional judgement."

Separately, more than 100 health professionals signed a letter to the government on Wednesday to express "grave concerns" about the protective equipment they have been given.

The letter claimed some front-line staff are risking their lives in the Covid-19 epidemic because they do not have suitable aprons, masks and eyewear.

The Scottish government has insisted that there are adequate supplies of PPE in place, alongside new measures to ensure the right equipment reached the right locations "with the highest possible urgency".