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Ministers accused of abandoning care home staff during the pandemic

Friday, April 26, 2024

Ministers accused of abandoning care home staff during the pandemic

Care home staff are still suffering mental health problems linked to the trauma of lockdown, the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry has heard.

Elizabeth Martin, a GMB Scotland branch secretary in private care, told the inquiry in Edinburgh how care workers felt forgotten, ignored and abandoned during the pandemic as residential homes struggled to contain infection.

In her statement to the inquiry, Martin,  said: “The biggest impact of the pandemic is the number of care home staff reporting issues around mental health.

“We were used to dealing with deaths in care homes but not to the extent that it was happening. That had a massive impact on staff. It was overwhelming.

“Staff also had to deal with families who were angry at the death of their relatives and took it out on them. They felt frightened and intimidated.

“They deserved every possible support but were failed.”

She said many workers were still suffering physical and mental health problems because of their work during lockdown in 2020.

Martin, who worked as nurse in NHS Scotland and private care for 38 years, said private care staff felt overwhelmed, frightened and intimidated coping with the risk of infection, the deaths of residents, the anger of relatives and police investigations.

She said: “At the time, staff just kept on going, they battled through, but, when things began to settle down, we saw more issues with mental health and long Covid.

“Staff have been leaving the private care sector in droves.”

Martin, who gave evidence at the inquiry today, said there was no specialist psychological support like that offered to NHS Scotland staff.

“Our staff were not given the recognition or support their work deserved. NHS staff were offered mental health support from the earliest days of the pandemic.

“Some of our members who are suffering mental health issues now because of the stress and pressure of working through the pandemic might have benefited from that support but it was not available to them for many months.”

Martin also highlighted the struggle faced by some care staff to be classed as key workers and, additional support, like being able to shop early before their shift, offered to NHS staff but not carers. 

She said: “By the time our members got to the shops there would be nothing left. They felt forgotten.”

“The extra help and support given to NHS staff in recognition of their efforts was not mirrored in care but our members were also going to work every day, putting themselves and their families at risk, to do an incredibly difficult job in the most stressful circumstances.” 

“Care home staff should be acknowledged and respected in the same way the NHS staff were." 

The inadequate amount and quality of Personal Protective Equipment available in care homes was another huge concern for staff. 

Martin said: “The aprons were of such poor quality you sometimes had to rip off five before you got a good one.   

“At times, our members were being told by their care home management, to reuse masks due to the shortages.  

Martin said the guidelines for staff rushed into place were confusing and failed to reflect the reality of private care.

She said: “Residents suffering from dementia do not understand instructions to stay in their rooms, for example, or not to touch things, or social distancing. It would demand intensive supervision and there were not enough staff.”

“The practical implications of these guidelines were not considered. Why were care home staff, or the unions, not consulted before these guidelines were issued?

“No one was listening to us or asking for our advice.”