Care workers are speaking out after pressure mounts on them to deliver critical frontline services amid high levels of staff sickness, unsafe conditions and resident deaths.
“I don’t feel safe,” care and support worker Polly Smith told Socialist Worker. Polly is a member of the Unison union's NEC and spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity.
She said workers have to rely on “rumours” to work out who has suspected coronavirus.
“They’re not telling us anything. It would be better if the manager came out and said who has a temperature, and who has been coughing.
“I actually heard from a nurse on duty that a resident had symptoms and then died from it. Who do you believe—the nurse or the manager? I believe the nurse.”
The full extent of how Covid-19 has impacted adult social care provision is not yet known to anyone.
Coronavirus deaths outside hospitals—in care services and individuals’ homes—aren’t counted in the daily government figures.
I actually heard from a nurse on duty that a resident had symptoms and then died from it. Who do you believe—the nurse or the manager? I believe the nurse
Yet coronavirus has the potential to rip through care homes and cause mass fatalities. Around 400,000 older people live in care homes across Britain, and will be extremely vulnerable if the virus hits their facility.
For instance, some 15 residents have died at the Castletroy Residential Home in Luton. Five of those who have died have been confirmed as having Covid-19.
In Glasgow, 16 residents at the Burlington Court Care Home died in the space of just eight days.
Seven people have died in the Hawthorn Green home in east London—with a further 21 residents displaying Covid-19 symptoms.
Jamshad Ali, a resident at the home in Stepney, died after returning to Hawthorn Green following discharge from hospital for a chest infection.
Luthfa Hood, his daughter said, “If we had known the virus was so prevalent in Hawthorn Green we would not have sent him back there after he had been in hospital.
“We knew that if he got it, that would be him done. “We cannot praise the NHS enough for what they did. But there needs to be more testing, especially in places like care homes where the most vulnerable live,” she said.
And at the Castle View care home in Dumbarton, eight people have died in the past ten days.
Gary Smith, GMB regional secretary said management at Castle View, which is run by healthcare giant HC-One, dismissed workers’ concerns.
In a letter to Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, he said bosses told workers they were “overreacting and causing panic by taking temperatures".
“Very worryingly we are advised that at the start of the outbreak face masks were actually locked away by management and staff were told they did not need to use them.”
With many care workers forced to stop work due to them falling ill with symptoms, or living with vulnerable family members, services are stretched thin.
Polly said that, “For the last few months, it’s been 12-hour shifts. At this care home, on a night shift there’s usually a nurse and three others. Last night there was a nurse and two others.”
Another huge struggle is the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers. “The cleaners and the cooks get no PPE and they’re really the most worried”, said Polly.
“They go into every single room” and staff shortages mean they’re taking on more contact than ever before with residents.
“Because now we need an extra pair of hands assisting residents to eat, cooks are helping some of them to feed,” she said.
And with the crisis far from over, tens of thousands of service users are suffering under the isolation and social distancing measures.
Chris Whitty, chief medical officer, has asked relatives to not visit their family inside residential services.
“Care homes and nursing homes are going to provide us with some of the biggest challenges, and we have seen already that over nine percent of care homes have reported cases,” he said.
At Polly’s work residents are mostly kept in their rooms to stop the spread of infection, which she said is “really difficult for people”.
Not only highly susceptible to the virus, many care homes shut their doors to visitors over a months ago—leaving service users without crucial social contact and susceptible to loneliness.
The adult social care sector is fragmented and highly competitive. The Skills for Care charity said there was around 22,000 adult social care organisations at 41,000 care-providing locations across Britain.
It’s an industry privatised by New Labour and the Tories, and one where private firms run care facilities for profit.
When firms run into financial difficulty, companies can withdraw care—often suddenly—and the contract is passed on by the local authority to the lowest bidder.
Coronavirus shows how services that have been cut and privatised struggle under the weight of a national crisis.
The nature of privatisation makes it difficult to implement national measures across the industry. And for the outsourcing and healthcare fat cats, their primary concern is always how much profit they can trouser.