Care workers up and down the country are calling for people to be more understanding of their position, after prime minister Boris Johnson labelled them as key workers in his lockdown guidelines.
NHS staff, social care workers, childcare and teaching staff, as well as those working in supermarkets and other similar positions are only a fraction of those whose careers are considered essential for society to continue running.
However, many have complained that measures that are being taken to protect the vulnerable are not being extended to the right people.
Many supermarkets in the UK have implemented designated hours in the day to NHS staff, as well as those over 70 to shop alone for their own protection. But a lot of care workers believe no consideration has gone in to their situations, with many of them having the responsibility to shop for elderly or vulnerable clients, as well as a duty of care to practice strict social distancing measures for the sake of their clients.
One care worker complained how it was “atrocious” that supermarkets were letting NHS workers skip queues while “not letting carers for vulnerable people do the same”. She stated that she knew “at least one elderly man who might not get his shopping now because a carer with a one hour time limit was not let in to stores in time”.
The same carer commented that while “designated hours are good, not everyone can be there at the times they’ve been put in place, they’re early in the morning which is when most carers are in the community helping those most vulnerable with showering, medication and other essential daily duties and by the time we get the opportunity to get to shops we’re turned away because we’re not NHS”.
Care workers across the nation are also complaining of services being “near breaking point” due to shortages of Personal Protective Equipment.
Unison, a trade union representing all in the public sector, have recently called on the prime minister to do more to end severe shortages of PPE before the situation in the care industry becomes dire.
A care worker in a Tyne and Wear convalescent care home complained that PPE arriving at her workplace was being distributed to the wrong people or used irresponsibly. Leaving those who have constant contact with the vulnerable with only gloves and limited numbers of aprons to protect them and their clients against the potentially deadly virus.
“We’re being treated like second rate citizens just because we don’t have an NHS badge hanging around our necks. We’re putting our own lives and our family’s lives at risk working in this sector but we’re still not considered equal to NHS workers.”
Not only are care workers being denied basic protection for the sake of themselves and those around them, many are seeing their workload increase as they are expected to take on the jobs of others in order to meet the high demand and fast turnover that COVID-19 is creating.
Short term care homes including convalescent and rehabilitation centres are seeing their turnover go from three to four weeks to just five days to keep up with hospital’s need to free up beds for patients suffering with novel coronavirus.
Sunderland care worker, Carol, also expressed concerns about the government’s lack of concern surrounding testing in the UK.
“People coming to us aren’t being tested before they leave hospital. They’re coming to us for convalescent care, but we don’t know what these people are bringing into our home. The cross infection risk is putting people in danger but again, because we’re not NHS it’s like we don’t exist.”
With those working on the front line still not being considered for necessary testing, the risk of working with the vulnerable is far from over. But these unsung heroes of the care sector will carry on, knowing how vital their work is to the running of society.
For now, carers not working in the National Health Service can only hope their positions will begin to be held in the same regard as those working for the NHS, before they reach a point of no return.