Helen writes to Dave Prentis UNISON General Secretary about PPE for care workers

Helen Davies, Barnet UNISON Branch Chair and UNISON NEC rep for London sent the email below to Dave Prentis UNISON General Secretary on Tuesday 14 April 2020. 

“Dear Gill, Christina and Dave,
First, I hope you are well.
As you can see below many of our care workers are reporting alarming conditions about PPE where they work. The social care workforce is in an even weaker place than our colleagues in health as they have the worst terms and conditions and the intense fragmentation through privatisation has bedevilled even those who are trying to do the right thing. We are taking up the issues with the Council and the employers but they simply point to PHE guidance which they say they are following. Our national union is best placed to challenge the nonsense of the guidance.
The key question which I think UNISON needs to address urgently is PHE guidance, which is at best flimsy. It is difficult to work your way round their website and the guidance is caveated so many times over that it is wide open to interpretation. This is handy for settings which are seeking to ration PPE. My members tell me this is happening and has happened leading to outbreaks and deaths which are COVID related. In other words they were preventable.
PHE continues to perpetuate a myth, which I think only they believe in, that unless you have the symptoms of CV19 you cannot transmit it. This flies in the face of the experience of our care workers working in care homes. UNISON needs to come out and highlight the lunacy which then employers use to deny PPE. UNISON also needs to be quite strong telling care workers it’s ok to refuse to work in a setting which is unsafe until and unless they are given the proper protection – that UNISON will defend them in court.
If it’s not possible to catch CV19 from someone who is a-symptomatic why are we advocating social distancing? How have so many bus drivers died? Why are people who never go out of their setting contracting the virus and dying? Why would public messaging (nationally and repeated by our council below) suggest “anyone can transmit it” but then deny PPE to those delivering personal care because neither service user nor worker are displaying CV19 symptoms?
The RCN has come out strongly defending its members and we should do the same. I think we have to be clear on our national website and with emails and text messages that the union is advocating you refuse to work and we will defend you if you are not being provided with the right equipment which we are saying needs to be mask and eye protection, gloves and gown on EVERY occasion you provide personal care to ANYONE.
Because our care workers are working without PPE and because they believe they have to we now have hundreds of vulnerable people succumbing to CV19 and careworkers trailing the disease home to their loved ones who may be equally vulnerable,

Barnet UNISON will publish the response to our members as soon as it arrives