Public service workers have contacted a special UNISON hotline to express their anxiety and concern regarding the lack of masks, eye protectors, gloves and gowns at their workplace.
Staff from across the UK’s public services, which includes NHS workers as well as those who work in social care and local services, have told UNISON that they are scared at the lack of protective equipment. Workers fear they are at risk of catching COVID-19 and passing on to their families, or to the elderly and vulnerable people they treat and care for.
UNISON has today (Thursday 9 April) passed the testimonies they have collected from public service staff to the health secretary Matt Hancock. This includes stories from those working in the UK’s hospitals, care homes and schools, as well as those who work in the community such as social workers, police staff and refuse collectors.
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis wrote a letter to accompany the testimonies sent to Matt Hancock, in which he urges the government to make sure that workers get adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and to reassure all staff that supplies are on their way.
The quotes and stories sent to the health secretary today from workers worried about the lack of PPE include:
“My colleagues have been asked to wear bags over their faces for lack of surgical masks when needed. It’s getting to the point where I want to quit my job as I feel I’m endangering my own life.”
“Our clients are terrified we’ll bring the virus to their homes and we’re equally afraid of that. Many of us have isolated from our children because we fear for their lives.”
“Staff are extremely stressed and anxious and feel they’re not being supported with basic PPE. We’ve no face guards and are constantly being coughed on and sneezed on by residents. Small plastic aprons covering no more than an adult bib would are no protection against this virus.”
UNISON says that every worker in care homes and those supporting people in their community should be sent a checklist of what PPE they need along with clear guidance on how it should be used. The union also says that employers must reassure their staff that they won’t be pressured into attending work if they should be self-isolating or have health risks and concerns.
Some of the more worrying stories submitted to the UNISON PPE hotline relate to the shortage of protective equipment, and delays in the delivery of PPE. While others concern the difficulty in maintaining correct social distancing while caring for patients with conditions such as dementia, and that the lack of PPE in such instances is an ongoing worry.
UNISON said the comments reflect how anxious and scared care service workers are for their own health, as well as that of the people they care for and their families.
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said:
We can’t go another week with health workers, care staff and those providing key local services feeling exposed to harm.
The safety of NHS and care workers is absolutely critical – they are leaving their families this Easter to care for the loved ones of others in the most difficult circumstances imaginable. The very least they deserve is the equipment needed to keep them safe.
It’s tragic to see deaths of public services workers and the people they support over the past few weeks. Unless the government can get to grips quickly with supply problems, the numbers dying could spiral.
Staff care deeply about the elderly and vulnerable they look after. But the lack of protective equipment for those working in such close contact with others means lives are being put at risk.
While most are safe at home, NHS and care staff are being scared out of their wits for fear of contracting and passing on the virus at work and to their loved ones.
Sending these shocking stories to the heart of government shows ministers why there’s not a moment to lose. The government must get to grips immediately with this dreadful national situation. Otherwise the consequences don’t bear thinking about.