Covid-19 Community Reporter, Dianna Djokey, interviews Abel, a local social care worker and migrant, about his experiences as a key worker during the pandemic.
Covid-19 has a higher risk of affecting migrants and people of colour. Migrants are more likely to work within temporary sectors like social care, and to work through agency banks that assign workers to different homes across the regions they live in. Moving from home to home poses a higher risk of exposure to the virus, not only to the resident but to the key worker. The HSJ reported in April that more than half those health and social care workers who have died were born outside the UK, compared to a reported 18 per cent of NHS staff.
Abel, a migrant social care worker who works via a social care agency bank in Hampshire, speaks of his experiences during the pandemic. Our interview took place only days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed that the social care sector was to blame for many of the deaths from Covid-19, stating that ‘too many’ in the sector ‘didn’t really follow the procedures’.
‘Some of the care homes I worked [in] took a long time to supply PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] to their workers. That affected a lot of us because of the virus. Because of their negligence in equipping the carers on time, and waiting until something had gone wrong, until many of the carers had got sick, I think [it] was very bad. Us being given gear could have been done at the beginning.’
‘[Instead some of the care homes gave] preference to the residents and how they reacted to seeing people in full, complete PPE. I believe if the health care professional is strong, they will be able to assist the resident [with any fear], but if [the worker gets] sick, the resident also goes down as well. So I found the homes [prioritised] how [the patients] will react seeing your PPE, [more] than the health of the residents and the health of the health workers.’
‘The procedure wouldn’t have been an issue if the first thing they did was to equip the carers with PPE. I fault that action, I will fault it because it kind of helps [potentially] spread the virus.’
Following Boris Johnson’s comments, the social care sector hit back at the claim that care homes were to blame for the outbreak, calling for an inquiry. Shadow social care minister Liz Kendall said, ‘There have been 30,000 excess deaths in care homes and at least 20,000 of these caused by Covid-19. 25,000 elderly people were discharged from hospitals to care homes without any tests whatsoever and frontline care workers were left without vital PPE.’
Alongside a shortage of PPE at the start of the pandemic, and the scandal of discharging Covid-19 patients into care homes, care home managers have also pointed to the shifting and unclear guidance from government at the start of the pandemic as a cause of the disproportionate impact on elderly people living in care homes.
Age UK also highlight the privatisation of the adult social care sector as a barrier to a quick, coordinated response to the pandemic across the sector, stating on their website in April, that:
‘…we have somehow got ourselves into a position in which care homes are operated for the most part by many small private providers on the one hand, and a number of corporate chains on the other, with the owners of the latter often based abroad and involved in complex financial arrangements, as a result of which it can be hard to see where accountability lies and what priority is really being placed on delivering good care to a highly vulnerable group as opposed to turning a buck.’
As a result, ‘…there was seemingly a degree of hesitation over the question of what responsibility the Government actually bears for this sector, given that it is largely privately rather than State owned. Tragically, it seems all too easy for the care home sector to fall between two stools: neither genuinely in the community on the one hand, nor in the NHS on the other.’
I asked Abel about his experience with care home managers during the pandemic.
‘I remember one moment where I work, one of the managers there told me “you are the most protected staff in the care home, I know that blacks are somehow immune to the virus.”’
In reality, individuals from ethnic minorities are over-represented among those infected by Covid-19 and are also at higher risk of severe outcomes.
Abel tells me that he believes accurate information for managers and frontline workers is important, as well as PPE.
‘Equip your staff on time,’ he says. ‘At any stage of the pandemic, I believe that information matters a lot. When one has information, when one is informed, that [can] equip the person to be more careful. I know some homes did that. I’m aware that some homes did train their staff in how to protect themselves and residents as well.’
Abel highlights that the discharging of Covid patients into care homes collided directly with a lack of PPE, causing the perfect storm.
‘These residents, they go to hospital, some go for surgery. That’s where [we] got it wrong from day one. I went to a big home, up to 80 or 90 residents. I asked, how come two floors out of three floors are filled with Covid patients? I was told the same thing, the management had no time to supply PPE.’
Abel saw firsthand the impact of a lack of understanding about the virus and how it was spread among care workers.
‘I went to one home and in my presence the resident died, and one of the social care workers was kissing the resident. A kind of goodbye kiss, they kiss the resident’s hand, kiss the forehead. And one of the carers, one youngster that I work with, an Asian carer [I asked] her what do you think about what they are doing? She said, [it’s] not good, seeing the carers kissing a dead body.’
‘After I went to relate the whole experience with management, [they] told me, I should not work on [that] floor. I said no, when I came here, I was told I was going to work in [the] Covid ward, so I’m not going anywhere. I’ll stay here, do my job and after I’ll leave. It didn’t go well with me and management that night.’
‘A lot of residents died. I’ve seen so many residents die. I’ve seen some where [they were] in bed in the evening, [I] came back the next night and they say he’s dead.’
Ultimately, like so many other care workers in the UK, Abel does not have the luxury of stepping away from his job during the pandemic.
‘I’ve got to work because I have a family to provide for,’ he said.
S&C has been awarded funding from the European Journalism Centre Covid-19 Support Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on diverse communities and sectors in Portsmouth:
- voluntary sector, including charities, community groups and social enterprises
- small businesses and self-employed people
- BAME communities
- people with disabilities
We have also been awarded funding from the Public Interest News Foundation Emergency Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on migrants, and asylum seekers and refugees.
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