Government must up its game on PPE to protect health and care workers’ lives, demands UNISON

Continuing supplies are vital to preserve health of staff and those they look after

NHS, care and other frontline staff whose lives are on the line need immediate government action to fix inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies, UNISON is demanding today (Sunday).

Government apologies and assurances the UK has all the PPE it needs are of no comfort to staff whose workplaces are running low, says UNISON.

Over the weekend workers from hospitals, care homes and local council-run services have expressed fear and anger to UNISON’s PPE alert hotline about the absence of gowns, masks and visors where they work.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “No-one doubts the pressures the government is under. 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.

“Worrying that they don’t have what they need to keep them safe is adding to an already stressful and difficult situation. Staff cannot keep going into work scared out of their wits.

“The government must go the extra mile this bank holiday weekend and sort the PPE problems that are the source of such anxiety.

“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 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.

Staff also complain of being sent masks and other equipment whose expiry dates have passed. UNISON says health and care workers understandably don’t feel safe. It is calling on ministers to ensure every box is marked with stickers explaining the equipment has been retested and that it’s safe to use.

Some of the stories sent to UNISON’s PPE alert hotline include:

“My employer has refused to allow us to wear face masks, saying it frightens the residents and that no-one has Covid-19. But they are allowing a resident’s family in every day, despite us raising concerns. I have been threatened with the sack if I report this to my union.”

“My care company has now issued staff with face masks. We have been told to use one a day for every visit, regardless of the number of calls we have. We’re being asked to save them up and take them back to the office to be sanitised once a week.”

“We have no masks. We visit patients in their own homes with mental health conditions. Many don’t understand the virus and aren’t complying with lockdown rules. This puts us community mental health staff at risk. There are already suspected cases and we don’t feel safe. Our managers are desperately trying to source masks and appropriate PPE but they can’t get any.”

“I work in social care and provide intimate care to elderly residents daily. We have access to aprons and gloves but no masks. We were given five paper masks and told we were not getting any more. I was told to reuse these and wear them for many days at a time. The company has watered down the hand wash to make it go further.”

“I’m a staff nurse. We are being asked to wash our visors and reuse them as there’s not enough stock. We’re buying our own or trying to source donated supplies. This isn’t acceptable.”

“I’ve been redeployed to an essential care team looking after end of life and Covid-19 infected patients. We have surgical fluid resistant masks and visors along with the usual PPE gloves and plastic aprons. But nothing to cover our arms, hair or uniform. It’s impossible to give end-of-life care without our arms and uniform touching the patient’s body, clothes and bed. Patients are coughing repeatedly. I feel completely exposed. A cheap paper hat and gown is all I’m asking for to protect myself and my family.”

“My care home has five confirmed cases and 100 masks that have to last until Wednesday. We’re going through nearly 50 masks a day, before the end of the weekend there will be none left.”

Notes to editors:
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in both the public and private sectors.

Media contacts:
Liz Chinchen M: 07778 158175 E: press@unison.co.uk