Coronavirus: 'I'm a frontline carer but feel undervalued'

By Magnus Bennett
BBC Scotland News

  • Published
Precious Omoruyi
Image caption,
Care worker Precious Omoruyi says she was turned away from a supermarket during an NHS-only time slot

When Precious Omoruyi finished her 12-hour shift at a care home in Glasgow early on a Sunday morning, she headed to her local Tesco supermarket for essential supplies.

The 22-year-old care assistant's shopping trip coincided with a time slot reserved for NHS staff but she felt, as a frontline care worker, she had every right to be there.

She was shocked to discover that the store had other ideas.

"I went to the store because I had nothing at home and I was working the next night," she recalled.

"I was asked for my ID at the door but my work badge didn't have a photo, unlike an NHS badge, and I was told I couldn't go in. I offered to show them my uniform, which I had with me, but they said no.

"I was upset and disappointed but I wasn't in the mood to fight with them so I just left. I really felt under-appreciated."

For Ms Omoruyi, companies like Just Eat have fuelled that feeling by offering discounts only to NHS staff.

"I feel that care workers are not really given the credit they deserve but we give the same care and we share the same risks," she explained.

"I go to work like them, and every shift I hope I don't get coronavirus."

How big is the Scottish independent social care sector?

  • The sector employs more than 103,000 people - more than half of the total social services workforce - including approximately 5,000 nurses
  • It provides 88% of care home places for older people
  • The sector delivers about 55% of home care hours for older people

Source: Scottish Care

Under-appreciation of social care workers

Image source, Stephen Crawford
Image caption,
Donald Macaskill said the social care workforce had every right to feel undervalued

Scottish Care, which represents 400 organisations in the independent social care services sector, said Ms Omoruyi's story was all too familiar.

Chief executive Donald Macaskill explained: "The social care workforce has every right to feel undervalued.

"While the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of this workforce and is seeming to shift the perception to some degree, including the weekly Clap for Carers, we are still seeing ignorance and under-appreciation of social care workers.

"Some of our supermarkets are refusing to allow them access to protected shopping hours like their NHS colleagues, and daily there are organisations offering commendable benefits to healthcare staff but ignoring their colleagues in the care community.

"This is disappointing and misguided. Social care services and their staff are playing a critical role in supporting our hospitals to manage this pandemic and are caring for some of our most vulnerable citizens through it."

When asked about its Sunday morning NHS-only policy, a Tesco spokesman said the company had no plans "for the time being" to include the independent sector.

Iceland also offers "exclusive hours" to NHS workers, and it too has no immediate plans to open that up.

On its website, the company says: "We totally understand the need to look after social care workers at this time too, and have a huge amount of respect and gratitude for what they are doing.

"But there are limits to what we can do as a relatively small supermarket at this time of exceptional demand, bearing in mind that the UK has 1.1 million workers in the NHS and a further 1.6 million employed in social care.

"Hence we have had to take the decision to prioritise only NHS staff and the elderly and the vulnerable at this time, but we will continue to look for ways to help others."

'Challenging times'

Image caption,
Iceland is one of several supermarkets to offer NHS-only slots

Other supermarkets, such as Sainsbury's and Morrisons, have included independent sector care workers in reserved shopping slots.

Asda, which announced last month that it would be prioritising NHS workers in larger stores on certain days of the week, said on Friday that it had been a "miscommunication" and that "all social care workers were welcome then and are welcome now" during reserved slots.

Just Eat, one of many businesses that are offering discounts only to NHS staff (in this case, 25%), suggested it might be open to amending its policy.

A spokesman said: "While this discount applies to NHS workers, we recognise that these are probably some of the most challenging times we will go through in our lifetime and want to show support in any way that we can.

"We are exploring a number of options to see how we can help more people on the front line, as well as support the wider government response to Covid-19."

Scottish Care hopes, rather than expects, that the pandemic will lead to a sea change in the way care workers are viewed by the public.

Mr Macaskill said: "When we eventually do reach the end of the coronavirus pandemic, there must be a fundamental shift in how people who work in this sector feel valued by society for the necessary and complex work they do."