Frontline staff must be properly equipped to protect lives during the COVID-19 crisis, says UNISON, after ‘last-resort’ proposals on safety equipment were leaked.
General secretary Dave Prentis said that the proposals from Public Health England contain “desperate measures” and “are a shocking indictment of the lack of proper planning and preparation for supplies in the pandemic.
“The situation in care homes is nothing short of an emergency and there will be preventable deaths if staff aren’t properly equipped.“
The proposals include re-using gowns and masks designed to be used just once, as well as using lab coats, patient gowns and off-the-shelf non-medical eye protection.
NHS staff, care workers, frontline council staff, education workers and police staff are just some of the workers risking their lives to help the public during the coronavirus crisis.
The union also called on the government to clamp down on profiteering to stop some firms inflating prices for life-saving kit – and to immediately suspend VAT duties payable by care homes for imported safety equipment during the pandemic.
Tell us your PPE story
As UNISON prepared to ramp up campaigning to keep members safe, Mr Prentis said that Office for National Statistics figures showing more than 200 COVID-19 related deaths in care homes are “a national scandal”.
“Elderly and vulnerable residents face a death sentence because staff lack personal protective equipment,” he warned.
The care home figures came as total CORVID-19 deaths recorded in hospitals passed 10,000 over the Easter weekend.
UNISON continues to press the government, and ministers directly, to urgently make sure frontline workers have the personal protection equipment (PPE) that they need.
Members report PPE shortages
“Our members are telling us of shortages across pubic services,” says Mr Prentis. “We have passed on their testimony to government ministers for action.
Apologies and assurances that the UK has all the PPE it needs are of no comfort to staff whose workplaces are running low, says the union.
More than 3,500 workers in hospitals, care homes and local council-run services have contacted the UNISON PPE alert hotline to express their fear and anger about the lack of gowns, masks and visors where they work.
“No-one doubts the pressures the government is under,” says Mr Prentis. “But the time for excuses has passed.
“Ministers have been saying for weeks that the PPE situation is in hand; that there’s enough to go around and it’s just a matter of logistics. But it isn’t good enough.
“NHS, care and other key workers are falling ill in huge numbers. Some have already died – including nurses, doctors, care workers, healthcare assistants and porters. Staff fear for their own health, that of their families and those they care for and look after.
“Getting the necessary PPE to every workplace in the country that needs it – and ensuring the supplies keep coming so staff aren’t filled with dread as they watch stocks run low – must be the number one priority.”
Health, care and frontline council staff have told UNISON that shortages in their workplaces have meant they’ve resorted to buying their own equipment. Others speak of colleagues who are seriously ill in intensive care and of being terrified about going into work.
UNISON points out that, in order to keep their staff safe, care providers – some of whom are struggling with the financial pressures of the outbreak – are seeing costs driven up as they have to pay VAT on imported protective equipment, which is the only source available at the moment.
Neither the NHS nor individuals buying masks and gloves for personal use have to pay VAT.