COVID-19: protecting health at work | Health and care

Health workers, carers and support carers are bearing the brunt of the UK’s Covid-19 outbreak, which is currently one of the worst of any country in the world. Well over 200 health and care workers have been confirmed to have died from Covid-19.

As of late April, a large majority of health and care workers dying had been BAME, and more than half were born outside the UK.

Doctors in Unite are providing useful analysis and reaction to the developments around Covid-19.

No kit, no care

The government’s truly shocking failures over PPE have forced some health workers to consider collectively refusing to treat infectious patients until adequate protection is in place. The Royal College of Nursing has rightly stood by workers who take such a decision. Like other employees, health workers have a clear legal right, under Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, to refuse to work in circumstances which they reasonably believe to be “harmful or potentially harmful to health and safety”. Two doctors are also currently bringing a legal action against NHS England over its inadequate PPE guidance.

This is not a decision any health worker or carer would take lightly, but grows out of the absolute necessity to get PPE in place, for the sake of patients and staff alike. Without protection for health workers, hospitals themselves become vectors for spreading the virus quickly through the population.

Read the RCN’s guidance on refusal to treat here.

Cleaners and porters resume campaign for decent pay at Homerton Hospital

Cleaners and porters in the GMB union, employed by out-sourcing firm ISS at Homerton Hospital in London, are resuming a campaign for decent sick pay and parity with directly employed NHS staff. The union had paused its long-standing demands when the Covid-19 crisis struck, but management have now confirmed they intend to leave staff indefinitely with only statutory sick pay, which is wholly inadequate to the needs of facilities staff at a busy and potentially infectious hospital treating Covid-19 patients.

Full article here.

GMB are also running a petition campaign asking Health Secretary Matt Hancock bring all health service contractors back in-house so that they can be subject to standard NHS terms and conditions.

Care workers win improvements

Many care workers are standing up to demand they get the support they need to carry out their work while protecting themselves and others from Covid-19. That means demanding PPE, training and safety supplies (like hand sanitiser), as well as adequate sick pay and self-isolation pay for care workers with Covid-19, and those who are caring for a family member or dependent with Covid-19. These measures are essential if we are to prevent Covid-19 from running loose in care homes housing elderly or vulnerable people.

One great example has been the Care Workers vs. Covid-19 campaign, backed by UNISON North West. Carers have won pay increases and increased sick pay in Liverpool, Wirral and Knowsley, and the campaign’s full demands have been accepted by local authorities including Trafford Council, Halton Council, Sefton Council, and Salford Council.

However, carers still deserve much more, including a nationally guaranteed real living wage as an absolute minimum.

Support the campaign here and sign UNISON’s petition to support carers’ demands.

Defend health workers from gagging and censorship

While attempting to speak out over the lack of adequate PPE and protection, many health workers have faced attempts by management to gag them and, in some cases, dismiss them to prevent them from speaking out. Care service provider ExtraCare caused outrage when they sacked Labour MP Nadia Whittorne, who had returned to her previous job as a carer there, for speaking out on social media about PPE shortages.

UNISON, which represents many health workers, has set up a secure hotline for raising concerns over PPE.


Unite in Health

UNISON Health: Covid-19 advice for health workers

British Medical Association: Covid-19 responses

Royal College of Nursing: Covid-19 FAQs