Home and social care workers put at 'unnecessary risk' by Scottish Government guidance, union claims
UNISON has written to the chief nursing officer, Fiona McQueen, and the chief executive of COSLA, Sally Loudon, expressing “serious concerns” and demanding that the “dangerous” supplementary advice is removed
Social care workers are being put at “unnecessary risk” by the Scottish Government’s advice on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), a trade union has claimed.
UNISON has written to the chief nursing officer, Fiona McQueen, and the chief executive of COSLA, Sally Loudon, expressing “serious concerns” and demanding that the “dangerous” supplementary advice is removed.
The union has also met with cabinet secretary for fair work Fiona Hyslop to “vigorously” press its concerns that the guidance in Scotland “contradicts” the UK-wide guidance, putting home care staff in particular at “greater risk”.
The UK Government guidance on the use of PPE was issued on Thursday 2 April and was welcomed by UNISON.
It detailed how health care workers, including in home and social care settings, should use PPE when providing care.
But Scotland’s chief nursing officer later released supplementary guidance which included advice on when workers should not wear masks.
The section UNISON wants removed reads: “Where the person is neither suspected to be, nor confirmed as COVID positive, care at home staff carrying out personal care should wear what they have always worn – that is, an apron and gloves; and no mask.
“This applies regardless of the 2m distance. The same would apply to a community nurse visiting the same client: they too would wear gloves and apron, and no mask.
“Furthermore, home care workers and community staff going into people’s houses should only wear a mask when they suspect the person has COVID, and they cannot keep a 2m distance.
“If this is not suspected – or if they can keep a 2m distance – then they do not need to wear a mask.”
Johanna Baxter, UNISON Scotland’s head of local government, said: “This guidance must be withdrawn immediately – to put home and social care workers in Scotland at greater risk than their UK counterparts is nothing short of a national scandal.
“Home care workers are putting their lives at risk every day to care for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
“They need and deserve clear guidance and the full PPE they need to do their jobs as safely as possible, so neither they nor the vulnerable people they care for are put at unnecessary risk.
“There is already serious anxiety by home and social care staff and this is simply making matters worse.
Mark Ferguson, chair of UNISON Scotland’s local government committee, said “The UK government guidance – also issued by the Scottish Government – on 2 April brought some clarity and safety for home and social care staff. To backtrack on this now is a dangerous.
“We already have many home care staff becoming ill and they deserve our protection.”
Speaking at the Scottish Government's daily COVID-19 press conference, McQueen said: “The guidance is carefully considered, the infection prevention and control community of experts and specialists across the UK have agreed this guidance; it’s been supported by the medical academics and royal colleges as being appropriate given the scientific evidence at this time.
"And that is when you are caring for someone who doesn’t have covid or isn’t suspected to have covid, then your normal PPE that being your apron and gloves would be appropriate if you're delivering care.
"Where the guidance went a bit further than the science was to say, however, if you are on your rounds as a nurse or homecare workers, because people were anxious that perhaps nurses were getting more than homecare workers, which is not the case.
"If you go into a house and you've perhaps been there everyday and your client is fit and well but is developing signs, then we’re expecting there to be a mask available for that worker at that time.
"The guidance is quite clear that the mask is not necessary or essential when you’re caring for someone who is not COVID positive or has symptoms of COVID.”
She added: "I understand that people are anxious and people can misinterpret or not understand what we’re asking of them and that’s why that dialogue is continuing with the trade unions through COSLA and through the academies so that we can support people.
“The guidance is based on science and evidence and not on supply.”
Asked by a journalist why there is a need for different guidance in Scotland, McQueen said: "I am confident that the letter that I issued is in keeping with the UK wide guidance.
"Today we have asked for UNISON and Unite to present to us the evidence of where they believe we are not supporting our care at home staff so that we can do that.
"We’ll have that ongoing dialogue and discussion. I'm wanting to keep talking to them, I have every confidence that the letter issued is in keeping with the guidance and is evidence based.
"I would expect local application of that to be, as I said earlier, if going in to a client or a patient’s, somebody who is not expected to be COVID positive or showing symptoms, that that worker would have that equipment with them so they can wear it as appropriate."