Home care staff fear for their lives because of lack of protective equipment

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Care staff providing services for the elderly and infirm in their own homes across Wales are going to work fearing for their lives on the coronavirus front line.

That’s the warning from a domiciliary care expert whose 90 staff are being stretched to breaking point as they look after the elderly and infirm in their homes across Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan.

Keri Llewellyn, whose Barry-based All-Care Group has provided home care for 27 years, says the current crisis could engulf the home care sector.

Keri, who leads on domiciliary care for Care Forum Wales, the organisation representing independent care providers, said: “This is the biggest challenge we’ve ever, ever faced.

“I am worried about money, staff and protective equipment, those are my three biggest issues and the lack of proper equipment means staff are literally frightened to go to work.

“Care Forum Wales has made repeated pleas to the Welsh Government for additional personal protective equipment and swab tests for staff and clients alike.

“So far domiciliary care is managing as we always do and that’s down to commitment and goodwill but no-one can put their finger on how long this can continue.”

Companies like All-Care provide care packages, usually on a one-to-one basis, for those living at home, usually older people with often complex needs including support with household tasks, personal care or any other activity that allows them to maintain their independence and quality of life.

Those receiving care include people with learning disabilities, mental health problems, sensory impairment or physical disabilities.

Keri said: “We have been offered a 2.5 per cent increase in our fees by one council we work with but that won’t even cover the statutory obligations we have and our jobs are being made much harder by the current crisis and the minimum wage goes up next week. We are yet to receive offers from any other commissioners.

“Staff are often in high risk categories themselves and they’re trying to do a job in which social distancing is just impossible, sometimes in cases where there have to be two staff present in the client’s home 24/7.

“A number of them have some sort of underlying condition and should stay at home in this crisis but that probably describes the majority of domiciliary care staff and they can’t because they’re front-line workers.

“The lack of PPE has been an issue and up until Friday I had no eye protection for my staff. I’ve got some now but nowhere near enough, certainly not enough to randomly hand it out.

“My regular supplier has invited me to make an order but I can only order a fifth of what I would normally have.

All-Care (South Wales) Ltd, are based in Barry and provide a range of services for 87 mainly older people with a range of conditions including dementia, mental health issues, physical disabilities and learning difficulties.

They employ over 100 staff including 90 in frontline roles although 18 are currently self-isolating.

Keri added: “Normally organising domiciliary care is like doing The Times crossword but now you sit down and try and do it and then they change all the clues halfway through.

“But our staff are amazing and they’ve shown so much goodwill and they will always try and help you find a way to get it done even though they are quite scared at the moment.

“These are people who were told they were unskilled and now they’re being expected to step up and lead the fight so they’re enjoying being recognised and made to feel a bit special and quite rightly so

“In a hospital or a care home you have other staff around you but in domiciliary care you’re usually on your own so you can expect there to be some fear and anxiety.

“They are absolute heroes and they deserve our thanks and support.”

It was a sentiment endorsed by Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales, who said: “We have been appealing for weeks to the Welsh Health Minister, Vaughan Gething, and Boris Johnson to provide the social care sector with the support that it desperately needs.

Mr Kreft said: “Just like our care  homes, colleagues on the front line in domiciliary care require proper personal and protective equipment and access to swab tests as a matter of urgency so we can keep out staff and our clients safe.

“If we can’t protect our staff, we will also be unable to protect the many vulnerable people for whom we provide care – and people will die as a result. We cannot and must not let that happen.”