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Lack of PPE for health and social care staff is “a crisis within a crisis”, unions warn ministers

The heads of Britain’s health and social care unions yesterday (Wednesday) warned ministers that the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health and social care workers is a “crisis within a crisis”. 

  • Frontline workers are being forced to “risk their lives”, say health leaders
  • Staff facing disciplinary action for raising concerns, say unions 

In a joint statement – signed by seven organisations including UNISON, the Royal College of Midwives, GMB, Unite and TUC – they call on the government to urgently increase the supply of PPE to staff in the NHS and social care.

The union leaders warn that workers are being forced to risk their lives:

“It is now clear that the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers has become a crisis within a crisis. 

“Workers are being exposed to unreasonable and unnecessary risk by the ongoing failure to provide key workers with adequate PPE.

“Every day we hear from our members that despite repeated assurances from government, people are being asked to work with inadequate or out of date protective equipment – and that is where PPE is being provided at all.

“Key workers deserve better. They are risking their own health and safety for us.

“We must be clear what that means. Those who are subject to prolonged and direct exposure to the virus – such as health and social care professionals – are risking their lives.”

The union leaders warn that staff are being threatened with disciplinary action for raising concerns about unsafe working conditions:

“Where workers refuse to undertake activities because they do not have the appropriate PPE, they run the risk of disciplinary action, or even worse, letting down people who rely on them going to work. 

“Workers are told not to speak out. They are effectively gagged to stop them raising their concerns.  

“We need urgent action now, and transparency on procurement, distribution, timescales and exactly how and when workers can expect to get the protection they need and deserve.”

The union leaders call on ministers to work with unions and employers to identify shortfalls: 

“Government must put in place clear systems for employers to report shortages and shortfalls.  And guarantee that no member of staff will be put under pressure to perform tasks without adequate protective equipment. 

“As a trade union movement we are willing and able to work with government to get through this crisis. But we cannot allow our members to be put at unnecessary and entirely preventable risk.

“We seek an urgent meeting and urgent action to make sure that PPE is making it to our front line.  It is the very least workers deserve.” 

The unions warn that as well as health and social care staff, key workers from a range of sectors urgently need PPE.

Notes to Editors: 

  • The full statement reads:

We jointly represent many workers who are on the frontline of tackling Covid-19.  

Our members care for the sick and the elderly, they look after our children and keep them safe, they make sure there is food on the supermarket shelves, they keep the lights on and the water running. 

We are weeks into fighting Covid-19. It is now clear that the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers has become  a crisis within a crisis.   

Workers are being exposed to unreasonable and unnecessary risk by the ongoing failure to provide key workers with adequate PPE.

Every day we hear from our members that despite repeated assurances from government, people are being asked to work with inadequate or out of date protective equipment – and that is where PPE is being provided at all. 

Many groups of healthcare workers are at greater risk than others due to their prolonged exposure along with the nature of their contact with patients. Sufficient supplies of the required higher level of PPE are critical for them to be able to care for patients while not putting themselves at risk.

Too often, we are hearing of inappropriate ‘tiering’ of PPE where the health of one group of workers is prioritised over another, especially when it comes to outsourced workers.  

Where workers refuse to undertake activities because they do not have the appropriate PPE, they run the risk of disciplinary action, or even worse, letting down people who rely on them going to work. 

Workers are told not to speak out. They are effectively gagged to stop them raising their concerns.  

Key workers deserve better.  

They are risking their own health and safety for us. We must be clear what that means, those who are subject to prolonged and direct exposure to the virus – such as health and social care professionals – are risking their lives. 

We need urgent action now, and transparency on procurement, distribution, timescales and exactly how and when workers can expect to get the protection they need and deserve.  

Government must utilise the skills of the UK manufacturers to urgently increase supply, and put in place clear systems for employers to report shortages and shortfalls. 

Finally, we call on the government and employers to guarantee that no member of staff will be put under pressure to perform tasks without adequate protective equipment. 

As  a trade union movement, we are willing and able to work with government to get through this crisis, but we cannot allow our members to be put at risk. We seek an urgent meeting and urgent action to make sure that PPE is making it to our front line.  

It is the very least workers deserve.

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary, TUC 

Dave Prentis, General Secretary, UNISON

Gill Walton, Chief Executive Officer and General Secretary, Royal College of Midwives

Gail Cartmail, Assistant General Secretary, Unite  

Tim Roache, General Secretary, GMB

Professor Karen Middleton, Chief Executive, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy

Annette Mansell-Green, Director of Trade Union and Public Affairs, British Dietetic Association

  • The statement is also supported by other unions, including NASUWT
  • The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together more than 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living. 

 

Original article link: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/lack-ppe-health-and-social-care-staff-crisis-within-crisis-unions-warn-ministers

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