A CARE boss in West Berkshire has dismissed concerns about protective gear for care workers, saying the questions asked of him were worded wrongly.

Shortages across the country of personal protective equipment (PPE) have caused staff in care homes and hospitals to risk coming into contact with the coronavirus.

But questions about protective gear and whether care workers should receive full pay while self-isolating were dismissed by Councillor Graham Bridgman (Con, Burghfield & Mortimer), lead for adult social care — as the questions ‘weren’t drafted’ properly.

READ MORE: Family of Dr Peter Tun says Royal Berkshire Hospital doctor died because of lack of PPE

Cllr Carolyne Culver (Green, Ridgeway) asked him two questions at a public meeting of the executive of West Berkshire Council on April 30. The questions were: 

  • “Have social care providers been told that care workers should receive full pay, if they need to shield and/or self-isolate?” 
  • “Will the council make a statement reassuring the public that care workers have access to all the PPE they need?”

READ MORE: ‘Unacceptable’: public lose right to speak in council meetings

Cllr Bridgman said: “These questions were raised in absolutely identical terms by Unison [which represents local care workers] in an email … to all councillors. Regrettably, Unison don’t know how to draft a question.

“Because firstly, I don’t know if by social care provider you mean: the council; a care provider providing services to the council; a care provider that doesn’t provide services to the council but is based in West Berkshire; a care provider that doesn’t provide services to the council and isn’t based in West Berkshire, but does provide private care services within West Berkshire; or any care provider in the country.

“Secondly, when you say ‘should’, are you referring to legislation requiring social care providers to pay their care workers in full, if they need to shield or self isolate? Because if you are, I’m not aware of any legislation over and above the furlough scheme, and the guidance notes which have been issued by the cabinet office. Neither of those, however, require care workers to be paid in full.”

Rather than ask these questions publicly, Cllr Bridgman pointed out that Cllr Culver could privately email questions to him, or ask them in the weekly briefing given to councillors, which is kept confidential.

However, he did then say that the council will pay staff in full in its own care homes, if they have to self-isolate. But for privately run care homes, the council can’t legally ask them to do the same.

Instead, privately run care homes will be supported by the council with money to pay for extra staff or PPE. Cllr Bridgman said: “Basically, we are listening to providers in respect of anything that might be reasonably assessed as a direct impact of Covid-19.”

Cllr Culver said: “I’m really disappointed by the tone of your response. I’ve always found you to be incredibly respectful and conciliatory to deal with.

“As you know, it is my right as a councillor to ask questions, and this is a forum in which councillors can ask questions and those answers can be heard by the public. I am not allowed to go away from the [weekly briefings] and tell the public things that have been shared with us.”

Unison West Berkshire said, in a statement, it was “very disappointing” to see Cllr Bridgman treat the questions about pay and PPE for care workers with “such disdain”.

A spokesman for the trade union branch said: “These were legitimate questions put by Cllr Culver in the public interest — it’s a shame the substantive content had to take second place to a lot of pointless nitpicking.”