Exclusive: Carers asked to move into care homes for 'weeks' for no extra pay to tackle coronavirus

Some carers are being asked to move into the care home they work in to help deal with cases of coronavirus, ITV News has learned.

A form circulated by the provider Bondcare asks staff to "join a crisis team", which requires them not to leave the care home for days or even weeks.

Carers are told the arrangements mean they must:

  • "Remain on site, without leaving"

  • "Sleep on site in an unoccupied room"

  • "Have a pre-packed bag ready" for if they're required to stay

The form also makes it clear that staff will receive no extra pay for the risk and commitment they are undertaking.

It states that carers "will be paid for the direct care and support hours" worked, but "unpaid for the hours" not spent working while staying at the home.

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Carers are told they would only be allowed to leave once cover had been arranged for them.

While the form asks workers to confirm that they have not been put under any pressure to agree to the terms, ITV News understands some feel under pressure to sign it.

Credit: ITV News

The GMB Union said "it is frankly unbelievable" carers are being asked to undertake such risk without any additional pay.

Lola McEvoy, an organiser at GMB told ITV News she doesn't understand how the "lowest paid workers, mainly women, often parents, in our society" can be expected to "go frontline, move in and fight down this virus, protect our most vulnerable residents, but for no extra pay".

Bondcare, which runs a total of 61 homes, ITV News that the form was a “scoping exercise” to see which carers might be able to help within the team.

They say it was part of early “contingency planning” and "it was up to staff to choose how long they’d be willing to live in the home for”.

Lola McEvoy, an organiser at GMB, told ITV News the risk some carers are being asked to take is 'unbelievable'. Credit: ITV News

Separately to the form issued by Bondcare, ITV News has also spoken to a whistleblower who has raised concerns about PPE across the care sector as a whole.

The carer, who doesn't want to reveal her identity for fear of losing her job, says her particular employer has provided staff with just one disposable face mask per 12-hour shift.

The home she works in has already seen multiple deaths of residents with Covid-19.

Speaking to ITV News, she said she will often "cry at night" out of fear that she might catch the virus herself, due to improper protection, and pass it to her family.

The carer told ITV News that workers at the home are taking off their masks, during their meal breaks, to "shake them" and "let them dry" before putting them back on again.

On top of the disposable mask, the only other protective equipment she's been given are an apron and gloves.

"I feel stressed, I feel hurt, I feel like nobody is helping us," she said.

"I cry at night and pray that I wouldn’t get it to give it to my family - I love doing my job, but it’s taking a toll."

Current Public Health England guidance says carers should change their masks after each "session", which is loosely defined as a ward round, for example.

PHE says "sessions" can vary in length, but should last between two and six hours.

Under this guidance, the carer we spoke to should be changing her mask at least twice per shift.

Other care providers we've spoken to say they advise their workers to change their masks 3-4 times a day, or every time they deal with a new client.

Following reports on PPE, Health Minister Helen Whately said "it's really important that it’s used appropriately".

"I would ask care workers, like everyone working at the frontline of health and social care, to be following the public health guidance how best to use PPE," she added.

The whistleblower showed ITV News one of the disposable masks she is asked to use for a whole shift. Credit: ITV News

Many homes in the care sector are still struggling to get supplies of PPE, which is leading to shortages and rationing.

One firm we spoke to has spent £100,000 on equipment, partly due to inflated prices.

ITV News has also heard from care provider Armscare in Norfolk, which has managed to stay infection free, but is now struggling to get staff tested.

They were sent a letter by the Care Quality Commission inviting their carers for a test in Sheffield - a five hour round trip.

Today the Health Secretary said the government was working with 159 UK manufacturers to get more PPE to the frontline.

He also promised home test kits for carers and their residents, to make testing easier.

Labour's shadow care minister Liz Kendall said it is "completely unacceptable" for workers to be "put at risk without proper protective equipment".

She added: "The government must now spell out precisely how they are going to get enough PPE to the frontline.

"We also need more local testing centres so care workers aren’t asked to travel hundreds of miles, which simply isn’t possible especially for those who don’t have cars.”

A spokesman for Bondcare said: “At Bondcare, our primary concern is wellbeing of our staff and residents.

"At the early stage of the outbreak and before the government lockdown had been put in place, we took a number of actions to address the safety of both staff and residents.

"In-line with other care homes, we offered staff the option of staying onsite and become members of our COVID-19 response team as part of a scoping exercise into various methods of preventing the spread of the virus.

"This was not a way of extending staff’s working day; staff made their own decisions about what would be appropriate for their own personal circumstances.

"A number of our wonderful care staff did choose to stay onsite.

"We continue to prioritise their safety and concerns, as well as the best interests of our residents, during these challenging times."