Hundreds of carers, regularly visiting thousands of vulnerable and elderly people across Derbyshire, have been told not to wear protective masks unless the patient shows Covid-19 symptoms.
Derbyshire County Council oversees the home-care service, including more than 700 employees visiting more than 3,000 vulnerable and elderly patients.
One of these carers has told the Local Democracy Reporting Service they are “very worried”, alleging that staff are going to the vast majority of homes without masks, aprons and gloves.
The whistleblower fears carers could well be spreading the virus directly to those most at risk unintentionally.
They claim the same is also the case for care home staff – the council has 23 care homes, containing hundreds of staff and vulnerable residents.
A text message seen by the LDRS also tells carers not to “double glove” because “it is not necessary and puts added pressure on supplies”.
It also says: “Masks are only necessary when you are delivering care to a client who is symptomatic or is showing signs of symptoms.”
Vulnerable members of society with underlying health conditions and those aged over 70 are among those most at risk from being seriously unwell or dying if they catch Covid-19.
The county council has stopped all visits to its care homes to prevent this risk.
It said last week that protective personal equipment (PPE) for schools is in “very short supply” and that schools are being asked to share supplies.
Several Derbyshire schools have donated all of their PPE to hospitals such as Chesterfield Royal.
A county council spokesperson said: “The health and well-being of our employees and the people we look after is our highest priority.
“We’d like to thank all our staff on the front-line who are doing an incredible job in very difficult circumstances to ensure vulnerable people continue to be supported.
“The council is following Public Health England guidelines on when staff should wear additional personal protective equipment in relation to the current outbreak.
“It is being provided where staff are supporting people who are symptomatic or have been diagnosed with Covid-19.
“In addition staff continue to use PPE where they would normally use it in their day-to-day working activities.”
The county council has now launched a care worker recruitment drive.
No previous experience is required, the council is fast-tracking applications, the authority is paying for background checks and the salary is £9.55-£9.74 per hour.
The council says those who sign up will receive “all the protective equipment you need to give good quality care to our clients”.
Mick Coppin, regional organiser for trade union GMB Midland & East Coast, said: “Our care workers are heroes; keeping the most vulnerable in our communities safe at this time of crisis.
“The fact Derbyshire County Council aren’t doing everything they can to equip them to do their job just isn’t good enough.
“Care workers want to be at work doing what they do best; keeping people safe.
“It’s not good enough that too many of them aren’t getting the equipment they need to do their jobs.
“Added to that Derbyshire Council Council’s threat to close seven vital care homes, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that this Council doesn’t care for those that care for us.”
Jeanette Lloyd, Derbyshire branch secretary for trade union Unison, said: “We have been working very closely with strategic managers at DCC and they are keeping in frequent contact and informing us with updates around PPE.
“We have been assured that as of yet they are not out of any stock but may be low in some areas and are awaiting national replenishment and are also working to source supplies locally.
“Nobody should be without any at this time. Both the county and union are setting up PPE hotlines for employees to report issues they may have.
“We have 400 employers and the county council is the biggest, but we are more concerned about supplies in the private and community sectors.”
There is currently a national debate about the shortage of PPE, particularly among NHS staff.
Some health professionals have said they will refuse to work if their safety is not sufficiently upheld, while others have resorted to using bin bags instead of approved equipment.
Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Local Government has said the Government “cannot and should not ask people to be on the front-line without the right protective equipment”.
The British Medical Association says many hospitals and GP practices continue to face “life-threatening shortages” of PPE.
One in four doctors are believed to be off work, sick or self-isolating.