Social carers urge industry to meet safety equipment demand

Britain’s social care sector has urged the government to mobilise industry to produce personal protection equipment in the same way as it has for ventilators as a growing shortage leaves workers exposed to coronavirus.

In a bid to source much-needed masks and gowns to protect staff, along with hand sanitiser and thermometers, care homes and other social care providers have been forced to look abroad for extra supplies. But many providers have struggled to secure the kit because of the strong demand with suppliers often prioritising the NHS.

Last week the government designated four suppliers of PPE to give priority to the social care sector, which employs 1.6m care workers and looks after 1.2m people across the UK.

But Lisa Lenton, chair of the Care Providers Alliance, which represents the independent and voluntary adult social care providers in England, told the FT that those “suppliers didn’t necessarily have enough equipment and the NHS continues to have priority”. 

Last month, ministers launched an initiative aimed at boosting the number of ventilators available to the NHS, in response to a global shortage of the machines used to treat seriously ill coronavirus patients. Care providers want the government to take the same action on PPE. 

“Our view is we need industrial production capacity to be mobilised in the same way that there was for ventilators,” Ms Lenton said and she also called on government to reduce the cost. “This is a national issue and PPE should be distributed equally across the care sector and it should free or at least at NHS cost — for example why is it not VAT exempt.”

One care home told the CPA it had started using one of the new designated suppliers but would still struggle to receive adequate supplies, especially of masks, Ms Lenton said.

Donald Macaskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, which represents hundreds of social care organisations, said the shortage of PPE was “wholly unacceptable and unfair and presents a real danger to the safety of thousands of our workers who care for individuals in care homes and in their own homes.”

The government has already upgraded the requirements for PPE that healthcare professionals should be wearing after criticism that the existing guidelines did not offer them enough protection. 

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But healthcare unions said this will amount to little unless there is an end to shortages that have resulted in medical staff improvising with snorkels, rubbish bags and school medical equipment. At least three NHS nurses have died in the past week.

Care homes, like hospitals, have been at the frontline of the coronavirus outbreak with more than a third of staff off work because they are isolating with symptoms, according to Care England.

Professor Whitty, the government’s chief science adviser estimated this week that around 9 per cent of cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, were in care homes. But the lack of testing and the fragmented nature of the social care sector means the number could be much higher.

At the Burlington care home in Glasgow, which is run by the Four Seasons group, 15 residents have so far died from suspected coronavirus in the last week. At the Castle View care home in Dunbarton, which is run by Britain’s biggest care home chain HC-One, at least eight residents have died.

Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, which represents private care homes, called on the government to “ensure a consistent supply of enough PPE” and to roll out testing of both residents and staff. He said those measures would make it “much easier to manage this pandemic, ensure that people are isolated, and significantly reduce the risk of transmission.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are determined to give the social care sector the support it needs to respond to coronavirus and continue to work closely with Public Health England to monitor the impact on cares homes.

“We have also delivered 7.8 million pieces of PPE to more than 26,000 care settings across the country and are rapidly working to extend testing to social care workers.” 


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