Care workers still working with PPE shortages several weeks after Coronavirus peak

PPE shortages Credit: ITV News

By Kris Jepson

Exclusive: Data obtained by ITV News Tyne Tees suggests care workers in the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside are still working with personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages several weeks after the Prime Minister announced the country had passed the Coronavirus peak.

The data, collected by Unison's PPE Alert system in the last five weeks, suggests shortages in gowns, eye protection and FFP3 masks.

The union told ITV News it is calling on the government to ensure it is "prepared" for a second wave of the virus and the Labour Leader, Sir Keir Starmer, told the programme he is "deeply concerned" by the findings of its investigation.

Watch @krisjepson's exclusive report here:

The Department of Health and Social Care released a statement to ITV News stating:

We are hugely grateful for the vital support and hard work of social care workers during these extremely challenging times. Between 6 April and 15 June, we authorised the release of over 136 million items of PPE to local resilience forums (LRFs) to help them respond to urgent local spikes in need across the adult social care system and other front-line services. A new online portal has also been developed, in collaboration with eBay, to help all small care homes and GPs order critical PPE. We have not had reports that the region is experience PPE shortages in care homes.

DHSC Spokesperson
PPE shortages Credit: ITV News

The data was collected by the Unison union's PPE Alert system over the past five weeks.

This enables its social care worker members to report their anecdotal evidence to the union anonymously.

The data suggested that around half of the 287 workers who used the system had recently raised concerns with their employers about shortages in adequate PPE. Of these, only 37 per cent received "positive responses".

The Regional Secretary of Unison Northern, Clare Williams said "we need the government to be working with local employers, with trade unions to make sure that they’ve got proper intelligence and supplies of PPE are getting through on the ground, where they’re needed and, indeed, we’re prepared for a second wave, so that we don’t end up repeating that first cycle, where people were terrified about their own safety in going to work."

Labour Leader, Sir Keir Starmer, told ITV News he is "deeply concerned" by the findings of the investigation.

PPE shortages Credit: ITV News

I’m deeply concerned with the data that I’ve seen. For weeks the government has been saying it will get the protective equipment to where it’s needed and this data just shows that that is not happening. We can’t expect people on the frontline to put their lives at risk, which is what they’re doing, and not have the protective equipment that they need. It’s the least that we owe them and so I’m really concerned about it.

Sir Keir Starmer, Labour Leader

When asked about the duration of use for surgical masks, of 274 responses, only 23 per cent said they were correctly given a new mask to wear each time they delivered an episode of care to clients with or without symptoms, with over a third being asked to wear the same mask for more than one episode of care and more than 7 per cent being asked to provide care without a mask at all.

On shortages, the members said supplies of the basics, like aprons and gloves had improved, but reported shortages of other PPE equipment:

PPE Shortages Credit: Unison

'Julie', an agency care worker from Teesside, told ITV News she still turns up to shifts at some care homes and finds they do not even have the basics in place, like hand gel.

Speaking anonymously, she explained how, during the peak of the virus in April, the agency staff had to keep their PPE in their cars, instead of leaving them in the care homes when taking breaks, because care home staff were taking the PPE for themselves, due to shortages.

She said the situation has improved in many of the care homes she works in, but there are still issues in others.

You’re not getting proper face masks. That’s obviously down to money. You’re given a mask on your face to wear all day. The majority of places have visors now, they’re fantastic, but a lot of them have a gap in the front here, and the Covid virus can go down there and into your eyes. The homes should have boiler suits or gowns, but a lot of them just give you a plastic pinny instead and that’s as good as you’re getting, and gloves. At its worst in the places that I know of, people aren’t wearing the correct PPE. They’re going into rooms wearing no PPE and there’s nurses giving medication where they haven’t got the correct PPE on... I’ve been to one place where they actually give you separate PPE for each client you go into. You change it, you dispose of it, that’s absolutely fantastic. But then you go into another care home where you’ve got the same PPE on all day and we’re not just putting ourselves at risk, we’re putting the people we look after at risk.

'Julie', Agency Care Worker