Care and support workers are in urgent need of PPE to keep their vulnerable clients safe.
These workers, some of whom visit more than 10 clients a day to care for them in their homes, say despite being essential health workers, they’re struggling to get enough PPE and supplies to work safely even in phase three of the Omicron outbreak, and their employers say they don’t have the stocks needed to make this possible.
E tū and PSA unions are calling for full PPE kits and RAT tests to be consistently supplied to care and support workers who look after vulnerable people in the community.
E tū member Tarsh Dixon says going from house to house without full PPE puts workers and clients at risk.
"In phase two, we barely had aprons - some workers had none - and only low-grade gloves and masks. We aren’t even given enough aprons to protect our clothing from the usual bodily spills and keep safe from other infections, let alone protect us from Omicron."
Tarsh says workers are "incredibly frustrated and burnt out" by the situation.
"We work hard in the community to keep clients in their own homes and out of hospitals. These are the same hospitals that are filling up with Covid cases and are under increasing pressure.
"We need a supply of proper, full PPE and RATs, enough for a couple of weeks, couriered out to all workers so we can test at home to make sure we’re still ok to go to work.
"We’ve run out of time to keep emailing our providers and MPs, begging for full PPE to protect us."
E tū Director Kirsty McCully says the care in the community that this group of workers provides is essential, not optional care.
"It’s things like showering and toileting, wound care, and monitoring medication - essential in making sure people get their basic needs met each day."
She says the requirements to receive full PPE are flawed, as workers don’t have access to it when clients are isolating or when support workers notice symptoms, only once they’ve tested positive for Covid. But by then, it’s too late.
"This method of eligibility and distribution puts workers at risk because it’s simply too slow. We believe all support workers should have access to all appropriate PPE including N95s for each client at this stage of the outbreak."
PSA assistant national secretary, Melissa Woolley asks the Ministry of Health to immediately supply workers with N95 masks, face shields, nitrile gloves, and other PPE to stop Covid-19 spreading to their clients.
"Currently, workers are caring for a mix of people with Covid-19 and those without. They need to keep themselves safe so they can continue to provide these essential services and they must ensure they are not the cause of an outbreak.
"Workers also need extra time in their rosters to safely don and doff their PPE and pick up supplies."
Currently, workers are only provided with one week’s supply of minimal PPE - which needs to be continually reordered - with some workers being required to drive to collect it, unpaid and in their own time.
E tū and PSA have written to health ministers outlining a host of issues workers face, including slow and limited PPE rollout, not having access to full PPE and N95 masks unless a client is confirmed positive, and no reliable supply of RAT tests.
"Government direction on these matters to providers and the Ministry of Health is needed urgently," Ms Woolley says.
"The employers in the sector have advised us of ongoing issues getting access to PPE in a timely way. Their requests are not fully filled which leaves workers at risk or client care cancelled."