Some private care homes put staff at risk during pandemic, union says

GMB Scotland senior organiser Paul Arkison is to appear before the Scottish Covid-19 inquiry on Tuesday.

Some private care homes put staff at risk during pandemic, union says PA Media

Private care homes put staff and residents at risk during the pandemic because many refused to work with trade unions, a senior union organiser will tell the Scottish Covid-19 inquiry on Tuesday.

Paul Arkison, GMB Scotland senior organiser, is expected to tell the inquiry that poor relations with unions meant many care homes were reluctant to listen to staff concerns about the quality and supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), or the lack of testing.

He will also say that staff were pressured to go to work despite displaying Covid-19 symptoms.

In a statement given ahead of his appearance at the inquiry, Mr Arkison said: “We found it difficult dealing with the private care sector, possibly because of the relationship we had with those employers before lockdown.

“As we entered the pandemic, we needed real assistance and input from these companies, which, in my opinion, was not there.

“These companies needed to be challenged all the way.”

He said staff had tried to raise concerns about both the amount and the quality of the PPE available to them, but that employers had refused to listen to them.

“Essentially, we felt that our members, overwhelmingly low paid, working class, women were being provided with the cheapest possible masks or really low-quality plastic gowns.”

He added that the PPE that was available was often unsuitable and ill-fitting for a predominantly female workforce.

“This ultimately meant that many forms of PPE such as masks and aprons were too big for most female staff.”

He blamed these failings on the refusal of care homes to engage with trade unions and warned that a ongoing refusal by many homes to engage with unions continues puts the wellbeing of residents and staff at risk.

Mr Arkison also accused ministers of contributing to the problem, saying the then health minister Jeane Freeman failed to take action when the GMB wrote to her in April 2020 requesting routine testing for care staff, at a time when untested patients were being moved from hospitals to care homes.

He also said official health and safety guidance was contradictory, and was changed at short notice without unions being consulted.

“It caused confusion and mistrust of ministers that still lingers today.”

In its response Scottish Care, which represents independent care homes in Scotland, said: “Scottish Care does not recognise the description of private care homes expressed by GMB.

“It flies in the face of the reality that throughout the pandemic Scottish Care staff and members worked closely with many trade unionists to ensure that all staff were kept both safe and well.”

The Scottish Care statement added: “In unknown circumstances, everyone was under a lot of pressure throughout the pandemic and we saw a dedicated professionalism of staff putting themselves at risk by being present even when we knew little about the virus.

“Scottish Care and our members worked with government and others to mitigate risk wherever possible.”

“There is a growing and developing positive relationship between care providers both private and not for profit across Scotland and so we find it especially regrettable that some of the comments by the GMB put that partnership working at risk”.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our deepest sympathies go out to all those who lost a loved one during the pandemic.

“The Scottish Government is committed to responding to both the Scottish Covid-19 and UK Covid-19 inquiries, as learning lessons from the pandemic is vital to prepare for the future.

“It would be inappropriate to comment on the detail of evidence being considered by either inquiry while hearings are ongoing”.

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