Care workers in Derry have again raised concerns about a limited supply of protective gear which is placing them, their families and ‘extremely vulnerable’ clients at risk.
A domiciliary care worker who wished to remain anonymous said the need for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in social care settings remains a huge concern amongst workers.
“We are being told not to wear PPE until there are signs or symptoms which is stupid because we could be carrying it to other people in the community and not knowing. That’s a contradiction, you can’t close the door after the horse has bolted.
“We have clients over 90 years of age and people are very frightened, these people are extremely vulnerable and could die, imagine having that on your conscience.
“Most carers just feel worthless at the minute, my company doesn’t care, they tell us to wash our hands but there is no genuine support.”
This equipment, such as masks, goggles and gloves, is distributed to the various health and social care trusts in Northern Ireland who are then supposed to supply workers, including those employed by independent companies.
Chronic shortages however mean that those working in hospitals have been prioritised.
PPE stock released by Business Services Organisation during March 2020 included 39,600 aprons, 1,038,150 fluid-resistant facemasks and 223,800 fluid resistant gloves.
The government said the release of stock from the pandemic stockpile announced last week will immediately increase the volumes of stock available for distribution as required. This will include access to over 3 million items of PPE including aprons, masks and gloves.
However, this equipment does not seem to have filtered down to domiciliary care workers - particularly those working for private companies - and those in nursing homes. They are relying on donations from the likes of O’Neills sportswear and a local woman who is making them in town.
Due to increased sickness levels, staff are being expected to carry out additional visits during the day, the domiciliary care worker explained.
And if workers decide to quarantine for a period by taking sick leave, because they are working with private companies their wages will drop from around £400 a week to £90. “People are worried about going off on the sick because they won’t be able to pay their mortgages.
“Loads of people have had to self-isolate because of their mothers, fathers or children. They didn’t want to come off, but why are we not getting 80% of our wages like the rest of the country. It’s an absolute disgrace to be honest,” she said.
Care home workers in Derry are also fearful for residents who have contracted COVID-19 and those still at risk. Lockdown has been distressing for ‘extremely vulnerable’ residents who don’t understand why they can’t have visitors and upsetting for staff to witness.
Workers say it is impossible to social distance from clients and still provide care. Staff are now ‘terrified’ about the prospect of outbreaks and are struggling to get by with limited PPE.
There’s a feeling amongst staff that the pandemic will have passed before they get equipment.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said it ‘fully appreciates’ the concerns of colleagues across health and social care at this time and the need for adequate supplies of PPE to help keep them safe.
“We are doing all we can to provide necessary and appropriate PPE to colleagues in all health and care sectors.
“Independent care providers are responsible for sourcing their own PPE. However, in the event that they are unable to source the appropriate items HSC Trusts will work with them to ensure they have the appropriate equipment available to them if there is a suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 arise. This includes care homes, domiciliary care and hospices.
“Every effort is being made and will continue to be made to secure replacement and alternative PPE stock from all sources.
“Last week the Health Minister authorised the release of 30% of our pandemic PPE stockpile.
“Everyone across health and social care is asked to continue carefully planning use of PPE to ensure best use of current supplies.
“Easily accessible training resources have been made available on PPE use and information has also been specifically targeted for the community and independent sectors. “
The Western Trust was contacted for comment but did not respond at the time of going to press.
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