Forgotten healthcare heroes

Community healthcare workers must not be left out says Unite

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When you think of our NHS it is the frontline doctors and nurses working tirelessly to save lives that first come to mind. But what about the thousands of community based healthcare workers like health visitors, who are still required to go into people’s homes during the Covid-19 lockdown.


Many new mothers are incredibly vulnerable, exhausted from birth and all that comes with a new baby, worried about whether their baby is feeding properly or if the baby is losing weight. There can be health complications for the mother and baby, concerns that are dealt with by their health visitor in home visits they make in the early days after the birth.


Highly Skilled

These highly skilled nurses are a lifeline to many families yet it would appear that they have been completely forgotten by ministers and they urgently require personal protective equipment (PPE).


“Health visitors and community nurses are out there every day visiting parents in their homes offering excellent advice on new born babies and young children,” said Gail Cartmail, Unite assistant general secretary.


“While it is generally accepted that children are relatively immune from Covid-19, they or their parents may unwittingly have picked up the virus,” she added.


The Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association (CPHVA), which is part of Unite, has vocalised frustration at the slow roll-out of PPE to NHS staff.


“Making home visits during these times when we are all on lockdown and socially distancing can be worrying for our members,” said Obi Amadi, Unite’s CPHVA director.


“Not only are members concerned about contracting Covid-19 but also of cross contamination between different families that they visit,” she added.


Community practitioners are working really hard to provide services in the community. In many areas, they have been struggling to keep themselves and those they are visiting safe because of the lack of PPE.  Some have been forced to go out and do visits without any PPE and some have reported a lack of hand sanitisers too.


“There is some useful and practical advice out there for members to help keep themselves safe and we would urge all of our members to cancel all non-essential visits,” warned Obi.


Obi’s top 10 tips to help keep yourself safe

  1. Insist on staggered collection times for PPE so not all healthcare workers are turning up at their bases at the same time. This will lower cross contamination risk.
  2. Where possible call, text or use video calls instead of home visits.
  3. Where you must visit call ahead to establish the health of the house. If anyone in the house is displaying symptoms or self-isolating you should not visit.
  4. When you arrive stand at the door and ask which room you are going to before entering while maintaining a distance between you and the family.
  5. Only the mother and the baby should be in the room with you.
  6. If the rest of the family can’t not be present and you don’t have PPE don’t visit – remember that if you can’t guarantee your safety then you can’t guarantee the safety of patients either.
  7. Have the mother undress the baby and do all of the handling including placing the baby on the scales.
  8. After each visit decontaminate all equipment like wiping down scales.
  9. Dirty and used PPE should go in a clinical waste bag kept separate from clean PPE.
  10. If you do not have hand sanitiser carry your own soap – soap and water kills better than hand sanitiser.


“Unite is working tirelessly alongside other health unions to ensure that we are feeding into guidance that the government is developing for all of our healthcare workers,” said Obi.


Before becoming director of Unite’s CPHVA Obi Amadi trained as a nurse, midwife, health visitor and nurse practitioner. Her role involves taking the strategic lead on professional issues and supporting professional activity across the UK and internationally. She works with the UK Governments and other stakeholders on policy development and supporting our industrial relations and campaigning activity.


For healthcare professionals who would like to find out more on how to keep safe during this Covid-19 outbreak  Obi recommends this information video by Martin Kiernan, clinical research expert on infection prevention.

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