Matt Hancock must “move faster” to provide protective equipment for all social care workers to ensure their safety, senior local government figures have urged.
In a letter to the health secretary, the politically neutral Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) said sufficient supplies of good quality personal protective equipment (PPE) were required immediately amid growing concern for those who have worked closely with suspected Covid-19 patients.
It cited reports of PPE stock failing to reach social care workers despite reports of deliveries, as evidence grows of a devastating shortage of protective gear after it emerged previous high-level medical advice to provide NHS staff with certain protective equipment was rejected in 2017 because stockpiling it would be too expensive.
“Ensuring [social workers’] safety must be the number one priority alongside the safety of those they are supporting,” the letter from ADASS resident Julie Ogley and LGA chairman Cllr James Jamieson said.
“Despite welcome recognition from government of the importance of PPE, we continue to receive daily reports from colleagues that essential supplies are not getting through to the social care frontline.”
The letter, first reported by the Local Government Chronicle, described the current tasks for thousands of social workers in regulated and non-regulated services as “dangerous” and warned they were putting themselves, their families and their communities at risk with the lack of protective equipment.
“Furthermore, national reporting that equipment has been delivered to providers on the CQC registered list does not tally with colleagues’ experience on the ground,” the letter added.
“Of equal concern, there is a notable lack of confidence in national planning for, and provision of, PPE for the thousands of people who work in non-regulated services, such as personal assistants.”
Social workers have been advised to contact their local council, according to Ogley and Jamieson, despite councils not having PPE stocks to distribute, while the available stocks are in some cases unfit for purpose.
“We have been sent pictures of PPE that is used, dirty and damaged,” they added. “This cannot and will not be used. The guidance that we know is in development cannot come soon enough.”
Hancock told parliament on Tuesday that all care settings should have personal protective equipment by the end of the week amid reports that care homes are facing their own coronavirus outbreaks. Some are also experiencing staff shortages as symptomatic care workers self-isolate.
Elderly people and those with underlying health conditions are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus, and there have been multiple deaths within single care homes in the US and Spain.
MHA, which runs 200 care homes, said this week that there had been deaths where the disease was suspected, but that there was no way of confirming the outbreak because of the absence of testing for care home staff.
The Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are working around the clock to give the social care sector the equipment and support they need to tackle this outbreak.
“The full weight of the government is behind this effort and we are working closely with industry and social care providers to make sure care staff have the protection they deserve.”
On Wednesday, NHS England said some 55m more items of PPE for frontline staff had been delivered to health services services across the country in the past day alone.