First published on 8 April
UNISON member Mohammad Ahsan is a care assistant in North London. He’s one of the brave key workers pulling long shifts during the COVID-19 crisis, just to make sure vulnerable people aren’t left alone.
“Every day, I look after around six or seven people, for an hour or so each,” he says. “I drive to visit them in their homes to give them personal care, wash them, change their clothes and help with cooking and shopping.”
“Everybody is worried about the virus. Carers are worried for themselves, and worried for our clients too.
“Most of my clients are elderly and in the high risk group,” he continues. “Those of my clients who can look after themselves without us have cancelled their visits. But some cannot get up from their bed by themselves, and they need us to wash them, change them and make them breakfast.
“They’re scared, but there’s nothing they can do. They can’t isolate.”
While the government has instructed the whole country to stay at home, Mohammad describes how its guidance on self-isolation and social distancing ‘isn’t much use to carers’.
“We cannot be 2-3 metres away from a client because we give personal care. It is our job to wash people. All carers are at direct risk, but we have to give our service to people. If we all stopped working, who else would be there to look after the most elderly and vulnerable?”
UNISON has been at the forefront of campaigning for personal protective equipment (PPE) and pressuring government, councils and employers to address the issues impacting care workers – you can sign our petition here.
The recommended equipment for community carers like Mohammad consists of disposable gloves, aprons and single-use fluid-resistant surgical masks. However, the care agency Mohammad works with does not have enough masks right now.
“I’ve got plenty of gloves and aprons, but I only have one mask per day. I know we’re supposed to have one mask per client, but they don’t have enough.”
The agency is strained on staffing too, with many staff self-isolating. Mohammad describes the pressure this has added to care workers who are still able to work: “There are now even more hours to cover, but I am not planning to stop. I don’t feel able to do that. I can’t think in that way, because if everyone thinks in that way, nobody will be there for our service users.
“And if there is nobody there for them, they will be stuck without food or without medication.
“It’s not safe for my clients to leave the house, so I have to go out alone and do their shopping for them. But the problem is now that, because there are longer queues to get into the supermarket, and there’s no facilities for carers to go and do shopping quickly, I can’t do their shopping in the allocated time.
“And if the person I’m caring for is hungry and they don’t have food, I can’t just leave them without food. It means I’m late for the next client. I work from 8am to 9pm, and I usually get a break at lunch, but sometimes now I’m using my lunch breaks to go to the supermarket.”
As one of the nation’s many ‘overlooked and underpaid’ key workers, as described by Keir Starmer this week, Mohammad is still proud of the work that he does. In a national crisis, it’s the thousands of care workers like him who are bravely going to work each day to make sure that the most elderly and vulnerable have food, care and medication.
Despite all the anxiety and uncertainty, he still wouldn’t change jobs.
“Care work is a difficult job already, and with coronavirus it’s become a very difficult job. It’s not very well paid, and there’s a high risk of being affected by the virus. But I enjoy helping people, and I have good relationships with all of my clients. I just can’t leave them at this time.
“My job is challenging, so I have so much praise for the NHS staff and the work they are doing in hospitals. Without them, a lot of people wouldn’t be alive today. So many doctors and nurses are giving their lives to keep people safe as the virus spreads.”