Investigation at Sheffield care homes after PPE claims
Jun. 03, 2020
A health and safety investigation is under way at a group of care homes where whistleblowers have claimed they were told not to wear face masks.
Under guidance at the time, care home staff did not have to wear masks if coronavirus symptoms were not present.
Care home operator Horizon Care said there had been no positive cases of Covid-19 during this period.
Since then there have been 14 deaths linked to coronavirus at the homes in Sheffield.
According to Horizon Care, as soon as a patient tested positive, staff were told to wear masks.
The BBC has spoken to 10 whistleblowers who have worked for the operator, which runs a trio of homes on Grimesthorpe Road, including Wood Hill Lodge where a number of concerns have been raised about personal protective equipment (PPE).
One whistleblower, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: "If we would have been wearing masks from the beginning of March, if we had worn the full PPE and all the staff had been allowed to wear them, and all precautions had been taken, then I feel some lives would have been saved."
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A number of workers describe seeing symptoms associated with coronavirus - including coughs and high temperatures - in Wood Hill Lodge at the end of March.
Some staff say they were told not to wear masks at that time because the home was free from coronavirus.
One worker said: "It made us feel unsafe being told not to wear masks, scared, every day you were terrified to go back."
Horizon Care said its homes had fully complied with official guidance.
'Something seriously went wrong'
The BBC is also aware of two carers who no longer work at Wood Hill Lodge following disputes with management about Covid-19 safety.
An agency worker told the BBC that at the end of March she lost all her shifts after she tried to insist on using her own mask and was told not to wear one.
A staff member was also suspended after refusing to care for a man she suspected had coronavirus.
Despite having a letter from her GP explaining that she has diabetes, putting her at increased risk from the virus, she was later sacked.
Horizon Care said it followed "all the correct procedures" in regards to the two workers.
The operator said no residents were symptomatic before 2 April, when the home received its first positive diagnosis.
Some staff have alleged that after a positive case was confirmed, problems with PPE persisted and that masks were effectively rationed.
One worker told the BBC: "You get one mask per 12-hour shift, if you drop it or it falls on the floor then you have to go and ask for another one."
Horizon Care said there had always been enough PPE available for workers.
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To date, there have been 10 confirmed Covid-19 deaths at the homes.
There have been another four deaths where coronavirus was suspected but could not confirmed "due to a lack of adequate testing," the operator said.
Unison, the trade union which represents staff at the homes, made a report to the Health and Safety Executive at the beginning of May.
Union rep Tony Pearson said: "You have to look at these homes in particular and say something seriously went wrong in terms of the internal management here."
The Health and Safety Executive confirmed it was "investigating the concerns that have been brought to our attention".
The Care Quality Commission has been liaising with Horizon Care to "ensure they have the right support in place at this time," with Public Health England working with Sheffield City Council, the local NHS and the Department for Health and Social Care to provide the homes with infection prevention and control advice to try to reduce the spread of the virus.
Horizon Care said it had "worked hard since the beginning of this pandemic to support our residents and staff team".
A spokesperson said: "This includes implementing a comprehensive pandemic policy and issuing regular communications to support staff to implement Public Health England guidance.
"We have always fully complied with UK Government and Public Health England advice in relation to infection prevention and control."
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