Carers amidst the COVID-19 crisis

Helen Glancy reports on her work as a carer in the coronavirus crisis and highlights the persistent problems

The role of home care is one which is complex, demanding, varied and under-valued. However, since the global Covid-19 pandemic, the world has suddenly realised how dependent society is on this low-paid workforce. At the same time, there is a realisation of the threat the pandemic poses to them, and the role that carers play in caring for the people most vulnerable to it.

I work as a home carer for a local authority in Scotland. It is a job that includes split shifts, lone working and walking distances in all weathers. We are often short staffed and expected to support service users who are older, frailer and more dependent on care than ever before. The pressure to get people out of hospital sooner has led to an increase in the demands on home carers with new tasks added to our role like administering medication, reablement, and dementia care. We are not well-paid. It is rewarding but it can be stressful. However, we are in a whole different ball game now!

The world has been faced with one of the greatest challenges in modern times which has presented a monumental task, particularly for those who are classed as key workers. NHS staff are rightly applauded for the courage and skill they display in working in the frontline of hospital care. Meanwhile, home care workers support service users in their homes. This includes people from across all social sectors with an extensive number of varied needs and medical backgrounds. The challenges and demands for carers are always high but, due to the situation we are in today, this has increased three-fold. Every service user we visit could lead to us picking up the virus. We could infect every service user we visit. In addition to the risk to our physical health, our mental health is also under great pressure and risk.

This pandemic has highlighted the role in which carers play in our society. Due to the severity of this situation the number of support services to other service users has greatly diminished. Roles which could be carried out by others have decreased over the past month as the pandemic worsens and continues to spread. The input from family and friends at this time is extremely limited or in most cases non-existent, due to government restrictions in relation to self-isolation, social distancing and shielding guidance. Whilst we understand these are measures that have to be taken in order to prevent the spread of the disease, this increases the stress experienced by frontline home care workers.

Wardens in sheltered housing complexes are no longer in place to deal with issues of residents, day centres are no longer open, help with laundry and other tasks is no longer available. As a result, this has a significant impact on tasks carried out by carers that are already very time-orientated. There is also the possibility that we have to adopt new care roles that we are not trained for and not prepared for. The increase in safety measures and guidance, coupled with the pressure on the care sector, has had a serious impact on home carers. While nobody doubts the logistics and complexities involved in managing these changes, there are some very basic needs and requirements not being met for those on the front-line.

I speak on behalf of carers like myself who share these views. Albeit this is a challenging time for everyone involved, there has been a lack of proper guidance and cohesion between various parts of the care sector. Carers are fearing for their own health entering different environments several times a day for which they have no control over. It is impossible to create social distance in this role. We have heard of binmen refusing to work if they cannot guarantee they can be two metres apart and yet we are providing personal care with an apron and gloves. The serious lack of protective equipment that is considered essential is worrying for every carer as they leave the comfort of their homes to help those in need. Hearing the First Minister at the daily press conferences saying that there is plenty of PPE when our managers are saying they don’t have any to give us, unless someone has symptoms, is infuriating and increases the feeling that no-one cares about the carers.

We are well aware this is proving to be an issue across the whole of the NHS and the care sector. We are learning of the number of doctors and nurses losing their lives as they care for others each day. It is now being reported that care staff are now also dying from Covid. It is a genuinely worrying and concerning time for everybody involved in the care sector.

It is a combination of all these factors accompanied with the uncertainty across the board which has left us with no choice but to speak out and voice our concerns. We are passionate about our work and our roles and want to ensure our service users have the best standard of care they can possibly get. However, it is important to note that we too require some reassurance as we have to consider not only our individual health, but that of our families who we need to return to after each shift.

Helen Glancy is a home carer and UNISON shop steward