Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand
The outbreak of coronavirus is pushing Britain's social care system to the brink, with staff numbers seriously depleted due to self-isolation advice and lack of testing, while cash reserves have been severely dented by the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE).
It is an industry at the frontline of the UK's battle against coronavirus, with social care clients being among the most vulnerable, and carers, who must travel from home to home, being potential spreaders of the virus.
With NHS hospitals pushed to their limits, vulnerable patients with Covid-19 are being sent back home to free up beds when care in hospital is no longer necessary.
It means many carers are now working directly with coronavirus patients.
One recently discharged patient is Margaret Lowe, who has dementia and, as of last week, Covid-19.
In an attempt to keep on caring for vulnerable people such as Ms Lowe, her care provider in Hertfordshire - which is local authority funded - has spent £25,000 on PPE in the last week to ensure its staff can continue their work safely.
Those caring for coronavirus patients like Ms Lowe must wear hazmat suits, full face respirators, wellington boots and double gloves.
Her daughter Joanna Leggate said: "Because medically the hospital could no longer do anything for her, they sent her home, quite rightly, because they need the bed."
It means "carers coming in four times a day" in full protective uniform.
The only PPE provided to the care provider by the government was a delivery of 300 face masks, which are only useful for 15 minutes, to do 24,000 visits a week - the care provider has 700 staff members.
And a serious lack of coronavirus tests means many carers have been forced to self-isolate over fears they could have coronavirus.
The care provider has been forced to pay £375 each for home testing kits from a private clinic in order to ensure a safe return to work for any staff member self-isolating.
But with 75 staff members self-isolating, there is "enormous pressure" on the care provider.
To reduce the impact of staff shortages on care clients, the care provider is asking family members to train up to become temporary carers.
Dawn Ashworth, who is currently caring for her husband, said: "It's not the greatest idea but I think it's better than people coming and we don't know who's coming through the door, or where they've been previously.
"I feel like we live in a giant care home at the moment - an open air one if you like."
But family members helping out isn't doing much to relieve the strained care provider.
Speaking through tears, the manager of Care by Us, Alison Horne, told ITV News she doesn't feel like her firm can do enough.
"We love what we do, we love our clients and we love our team, but it's such a fast moving situation that we don't feel in control," she said.
"It's an enormous pressure and there is community spirit, but people really need to get behind us, not just the NHS.
"They need to get behind the care providers out there as well."
The Government says it is "working around the clock" to give social carers the "equipment and support they need to tackle this outbreak".
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "We are clear that no wholesaler has been asked to prioritise NHS provision over the care sector.
"In the past two weeks the NHS Supply Chain have delivered 170 million pieces of PPE equipment and in the last four days alone we have seen the delivery of 42.8 million gloves, 23 million surgical face masks, 1 million FFP3 masks, 13.7 million aprons and 182,000 gowns.”
Julie Ogley, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said: “We urgently need the government to ensure that all adult social care colleagues get access to Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) when and wherever they need it.
"By prioritising social care we will protect everyone, including the most vulnerable members of our communities."
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