Staff at a Penrith homecare business have spoken out about the challenges and pressures that have been put on carers during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
While there has been much coverage in the news about the impact COVID-19 continues to have on both residents and workers in care homes, home carers have been largely overlooked despite facing the pandemic on the front line.
At Penrith’s Beacon Homecare Services, operations manager Mel O’Keefe said: “When you see news reports about the awful situation in care homes, it sometimes felt like home care was forgotten. In some ways the challenges are greater when visiting people in their own homes.
Care homes can create a ‘bubble’ but home carers visit different people, in different locations and with different family and friends going in and out.
Mel said at the onset of coronavirus at the start of this year the risks to staff and service users were unknown.
Advice from the Government and Public Health England gave carers information which was acted on immediately but official guidelines could change constantly and be contradictory.
Through the help and support of the Care Quality Commission, Cumbria County Council and social workers, carers were able to work through the pandemic to continue to help some of society’s most vulnerable members.
An initial challenge that home carers faced along with many professions throughout the UK was the difficulty in obtaining personal protective equipment (PPE).
Suppliers ran out of or had limited stocks of gloves, masks and aprons and PPE costs doubled in some cases.
At Beacon Homecare, the company managed to maintain PPE stock throughout but at great cost.
The NHS portal now assists with PPE to a much-improved level but initially it could be as little as one box of gloves and masks a week.
As the pandemic broke, service users were contacted by Beacon Homecare staff and given the option to reduce the amount of care to reduce contact and reduce risk.
Although a loss of business for the company, staff agreed that safety had to come first.
Mel added: “Other family members were asked to stay clear while staff did care calls.
“Service users could feel isolated and lonely, Beacon Homecare staff could be the only people they would see.
“Assistance was given with collecting medication, doing shopping calls, but most importantly giving company and support.
“A friendly face to talk to even if that face has to wear a mask.
“Staff were of course worried about contracting or spreading coronavirus to our service users but stayed professional, focused and strong. They pulled together, supported each other and worked as a team.
“Staff had to learn new ways of working, new measures, new rules, which they did professionally as always. It was a scary time at the start for staff going into the unknown.”
Beacon Homecare supported its staff’s mental health with gifts, competitions and guidance from managers in the company.