Anonymous, Care Home Assistant
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed huge flaws within the care sector that predated the transmission of the deadly virus to the UK population. Flaws in the way that social care is run and funded and the government’s lack of consideration for the vital work care homes do have now been brought into sharp focus.
Personal Protective Equipment (or the lack of it) first made big news when it became clear the NHS’ supplies had depleted to unsafe levels. While the herculean effort to get restocked eventually saved numerous NHS workers from catching and spreading the virus, many care homes were completely overlooked. In the residential home I work in, my colleagues and I had to fight to convince the owners to even attempt to purchase the required PPE, because protective equipment costs money. By the time management realised the importance of adequate PPE, most of it had already been sent to NHS hospitals, so very little ever actually got through to us. This of course put staff and residents at risk of contracting the virus and we can see that now in the extraordinary number of deaths in care settings. The prospect of putting ourselves and our loved ones in danger against such a potent and invisible threat as Covid-19 was scary. I was angry too, as it really did feel as if we had been abandoned.
As we watched news of the virus spreading, new residents continued to arrive in the home; many from hospitals with confirmed Covid-19 cases looking to free up beds, while the care home was looking to make money. It wasn’t long then, before the virus got in and began to spread. Many of my colleagues were left with really difficult decisions to make. One colleague was told her child could not go into school again until she got tested, in case she had become infected by her care worker parent. Some colleagues feared they were developing symptoms, yet often continued to work shifts because they simply couldn’t afford to miss a day. If anyone suspected they had symptoms, the nearest testing centre was over an hour away by car, and that was if you could even get an appointment.
There was no safety net in place for us. PPE and proper testing for all frontline workers is vital, but still isn’t happening in care homes. The lack of proper employment protection exacerbates the situation further because if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. There’s no sick pay and you face the prospect of losing your job entirely if you self-isolate for 14 days, as instructed by the government. That people have to risk their own health and the health of others because they are worried about paying their rent is unacceptable and must change. That is why I am supporting the Women’s Equality Party’s social distance march this weekend.
My colleagues and I love the work we do and want to do the best job possible, but we often feel like our hands are tied behind our backs, and the reason is almost always down to profit margins. The private model instinctively makes cost savings wherever possible, to maximise profit in the care home; which leaves workers and residents alike feeling like the ‘Care’ is an optional extra. Years of underfunding from government exacerbates this.
It’s galling because, in my experience, the staff try so hard and do an amazing job with a high level of skill (don’t get me started on the phrase ‘low skilled worker’!), for very little reward. All the while fighting against a lack of investment in care and a feeling that the great work we do is invisible. This ‘penny pinching’ means we’re often understaffed and so rarely have the time to talk to residents, to go above and beyond basic care needs and give residents the stimulation, fun and the comfort they require. Doing any more than just ticking off people’s basic needs means you fall behind on your rounds, so both residents and staff ultimately suffer. With proper funding, residents would lead richer lives, they would feel valued as humans; not just a room number to be dealt with before swiftly moving on.
Just one conversation with a resident is enough to know that they have all led extraordinary lives, worked hard and given so much to this country. They deserve to be treated better.
Frontline workers in the NHS do an amazing job and it’s good to see the public showing such appreciation for the work they do. However, this pandemic has shone a light on the care sector, how we on the frontline of this creaking system have been forgotten and yet how vital our work is. We too must be protected and valued, not just to stop the virus but as a vaccination against inequality.