Care staff told to 'remain on site' if coronavirus strikes vulnerable residents

Care home managers struggling with staff absences fear prospect of losing more carers to self-isolation

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Care homes could soon run out of vital Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) vital for staff 
Care homes could soon run out of vital Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) vital for staff  Credit: Kirsty O'Connor/PA

Care home workers are being told to remain on site if staff or patients begin to suffer from coronavirus, it has emerged.

A number of managers at care homes in the Midlands and North West are understood to have warned employees that they will effectively lock down the premises if anyone goes down with the virus.

It is thought some care home managers, already struggling with staff absences, fear the prospect of losing more carers and would want them to remain on site during any period of self-isolation.

Staff representatives condemned the move, saying it would prevent care staff - many of them young parents with family responsibilities - from returning home to look after their children.

It comes amid fears that residential care homes for the elderly and other vulnerable groups could soon run out of vital Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) vital for staff to protect themselves against the virus when working closely with residents.

The GMB union has received several complaints from care home staff who say they have been warned by managers that they will not be able to self-isolate at home should a resident or colleague start displaying symptoms of COVID-19.

Kelly Andrews, the union’s lead for social care, said: “We have been receiving reports of staff working in care homes in Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester being told that if anyone gets the virus they will have to isolate on site together and not go home. Homes would effectively go into internal lock down.

“But this could mean staff not being able to go home for two or potentially even three weeks to comply with the Government’s self-isolation rules. Care workers are horrified at the idea of not being able to go home and look after children or elderly dependents. If they have to self-isolate they should be able to do so at home, in accordance with Public Health England advice.”

Ms Andrews added: “Managers are saying this because they are worried about being short staffed. But this is a terrible situation to put staff in.”

Texts received by the GMB from members suggest a number of care home managers have warned staff about possible lock-downs.

A care worker from Liverpool said: “The Home Manager wanted a lock in for all staff within the home for three weeks. I understand that the Regional Manager said no, but the manager is still talking about it.”

Another care worker, from Manchester, said: “We got a letter saying we would have to lock down and they say if on the 11th day someone else gets the virus they start again.”

At the same time care homes have warned that problems in the supply chain threaten to leave them short of PPE that staff need when working at close quarters with potentially infected residents.

There are fears that stock could quickly run  out as the pandemic escalates across Britain.

The country’s largest care home operator,  the HC-One care home group, said its care homes are already being forced to share boxes of equipment because of a backlog of PPE deliveries.

HC-One’s executive chairman, Sir David Behan, the former chief executive of watchdog the Care Quality Commission, and before that the Department of Health’s director general for social care, told The Telegraph: “My concern is that not only do we have enough for today, but that we have enough supplies of PPE to keep up with the demand we anticipate as this situation escalates.

“The problem appears to be one of distribution. Supplies are not getting through to us and we have already seen our care homes exchanging PPE equipment to make sure each one has enough stock.”

Sir David urged the NHS to provide urgent coronavirus testing for care workers to ensure those who are healthy could carry on working without needing to go into self-isolation, further depleting an already overstretched workforce. 

“At the moment we are coping, but as the situation deteriorates we are in danger of not being able to provide acceptable levels of care. A simple blood test would tell staff whether they can carry on working or need to self-isolate,” he said.

Council leaders said on Wednesday that the Government should ask retired care workers to return to work and provide a much-needed boost to social care staff.

Cllr Ian Hudspeth, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said:“The coronavirus outbreak will severely test and stretch our social care workforce, who already do a tremendous job in the face of extreme pressures.

“But supporting retired care workers to return to work could be a significant booster measure for the sector, to get through the highly challenging weeks and months ahead.”