Care workers in the UK are at “breaking point” because of the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) available to them during the Covid-19 outbreak, according to Unison assistant general secretary, Christina McAnea. 

McAnea made the comment in response to the news that some care home managers are still not providing basic equipment such as face masks and hand sanitiser to staff as they support the vulnerable and elderly during the crisis. In some cases, the union found care workers are being given just plastic aprons and gloves to protect against Covid-19 which has triggered widespread anxiety among staff that they may spread the virus among their own families and the people they care for.

The union has also received reports of some employees being asked to work even if they have underlying health issues, and to bring their children in if they cannot get childcare. In one case, a care home worker was told he and colleagues would have to nurse residents who become sick, despite not being issued with proper PPE.  

Another major concern among care staff is that advice from managers differs from the official government guidance on PPE. Other issues include families still being allowed by managers to make daily visits to residents, despite government restrictions limiting movement and social interaction.  

Unison said these issues show that “this fragmented, understaffed and underfunded sector is struggling to cope with the coronavirus crisis.”

McAnea said: “Care workers are being treated as though their safety and that of their loved ones doesn’t matter. They feel they’ve been forgotten about and are at the bottom of the pile despite doing a vital job. Many are being denied access to vital protective kits that helps prevent the spread of the virus to them, their families and the people they look after.”

Labour MP James Murray, a member of the Commons health and social care select committee, has written to the health secretary Matt Hancock to ask him to review the government’s strategy for supplying PPE to care homes urgently.

Murray’s response comes amid reports from care home industry leaders that orders of supplies of PPE intended to protect staff and residents in social care settings are being requisitioned by the NHS for use in hospitals.

At a meeting of the committee last Thursday, Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, told MPs that wholesalers were prioritising supplying the NHS over care homes.

At the meeting Green told MPs: “Some of my members are having things they had ordered, sometimes before this crisis, ‘taken at the borders’ for the NHS. So, we have got a situation where the normal areas of supply are not getting through.”

Similarly, Nadra Ahmed, executive chair of the National Care Association, which represents smaller and medium-sized care homes, said she had also been contacted by members saying their supplies had been diverted to the NHS.

McAnea has called for “a more coordinated approach” which is “needed desperately, with managers all following official guidance.”

She added: “Every care worker who needs masks and other safety gear must be supplied with it as a matter of urgency.”