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Carers facing coronavirus with no protective equipment

When will the right personal protective equipment get to the hidden front line?

27 March, 2020 — By Sam Ferguson

CARE homes for the elderly and assisted living accommodation blocks are struggling to cope with vulnerable residents who have tested positive for coronavirus, as carers fear looking after them amid a shortage of face masks, hand-gel and other essential equipment.

One assisted living accommodation manager in Islington described this week how a 97-year-old woman was “abandoned” in her room for days after being diagnosed with COVID19 because none of a private care company’s workers had access to basics such as face masks.

The Unison trade union has called on the government to make sure supplies get through to care companies.

Despite the woman’s diagnosis, ambulance drivers were last week unable to take her from a block in Mildmay to hospital as her symptoms were not yet severe enough.

It is understood Islington Council social workers had to intervene to ensure she was taken to hospital, but only after being told by 10 different care companies that they could not look after her due to a shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment).

The case comes as MPs debate whether to pass amendments to the emergency coronavirus bill which would suspend elements of the Care Act, potentially leading to a situation where local authorities would not have a duty to provide the same level of statutory social care to the vulnerable.

Town Hall leader Richard Watts has already moved to reassure vulnerable residents that they will not be left behind.

Paula Belford, who has managed the Metropolitan Benefits Society Alms Houses, in Ball’s Pond Road, said action needs to be taken quickly to protect elderly residents in the borough.

“There needs to be a space where residents of care homes and assisted living accommodation can go if they come down with the virus but aren’t ill enough to go to hospital,” she said.

“Hospitals are under severe pressure, and this will be happening in care homes across the country.

“Carers are refusing to look after vulnerable residents without the right equipment, and I think that’s right. They have their own health and their families to think of.

“The PPE is just not getting through to them. It should be a priority.”

Ms Belford, a former Liberal Democrat councillor, said: “The council could open up its public buildings, if hospital beds could be found, to help relieve the pressure on homes looking after residents with the virus.

“A 97-year-old was abandoned for days in her room after her diagnosis, before she wasn’t sick enough to be taken to hospital. She had no one to change her commode or to help her clean herself. These people got us through the war, and it is time to help them through this crisis.”

The care work is done by private companies, not the managers of the block itself.

One care worker said they were told they could only have protective equipment if someone is showing signs of the virus, or has actually been diagnosed.

“This is far too late,” they added.

“I feel guilty that I’ll be the one who puts her life at risk every time I go to look after someone else’s parent.

“I’m not trying to shirk my duties, I love my job, but I’m worried to the point my mental health is being affected. Me and my colleagues are frightened and frustrated.”

Cllr Watts said vulnerable residents were the council’s “top priority”, adding: “There’s a massive lack of PPE equipment in the social care system. Promises have been made and we’ve seen very little of that.

“We’re having to scrabble around to ensure our own social carers and social care staff have the protection that they absolutely need.”

Unison urged employees to call a new government hotline set up to ensure PPE reaches care workers who need it.

Assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “It’s too easy for staff to fall through the net, given councils are dealing with many different care providers.

“Supplies for the NHS have rightly been given a lot of attention, but any shortages in social care are equally crucial.

“Solving this problem could help reassure thousands of care staff that they’re not putting themselves or the people they look after at risk.”

A spokeswoman for the council said they could not comment on individual cases but said they were investigating the “serious concerns” raised.

She added: “The council is in daily contact with our care agencies and partners, and we are working extremely closely with them to ensure they have the staffing capacity and equipment they need to carry out their duties caring for those who need it most.

“The provision of PPE is a national concern being managed at a national level, and then devolved sub-regionally. “We are working with our partners and providers to ensure they are linked into all available supply routes.”

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