Care charity United Response says that it has spent over £1m from its reserves on protective equipment since the start of the pandemic.
The charity, which runs 29 care homes, said that it was forced to use its reserves because the government did not provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for care staff quickly enough in the early months of the crisis.
Delays in getting PPE to care homes led to a “chaotic free-for-all” as providers competed for scarce supplies, the charity said.
United Response was reacting to a parliamentary inquiry which heard that PPE “ran perilously low” at some care organisations at the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Government delays put frontline staff ‘at risk’
Tim Cooper, the chief executive of United Response, said: “This new report rightly condemns a deeply worrying lack of PPE within social care during the first wave of Covid-19 last year.
“This was a preventable shortage which put the lives of far too many frontline staff and people at risk, including those with learning disabilities.
“Colleagues across United Response responded magnificently to the impact of pandemic, and their commitment and passion helped reduce the potential impact.
“But during the first few months we were having to operate without PPE, creating huge anxieties for all concerned."
No PPE from government until June
Cooper continued: “We and others in the sector had no access to government-supplied PPE until early June 2020.
“This resulted in care providers being forced to compete with each other to obtain scarce supplies for themselves, often from overseas.
“This was a chaotic free-for-all, not to mention a hugely expensive and inefficient process.
“We have spent over £1.1m on independently acquiring PPE since 17 April 2020, using our own reserves to buy vital equipment which could have been provided by government.
“While we now have much-improved support with the supply of PPE, much better preparation from government was needed to equip social care staff with vital equipment so they could perform their jobs safely and confidently.
“The Covid-19 outbreak has been uncharted territory for us all.
“But government must quickly develop a better understanding of the needs of both the NHS and social care to ensure a readily available flow of critical equipment going forward, in turn preserving the safety of valiant frontline staff and the people in their care.”
United Response, one of the 100 largest charities in the country by income, had around £25m of free reserves before the pandemic, according to filings with the Charity Commission.
Its annual report for the year ending March 2020 said: “Life as we know it was turned on its head during the closing months of 2019-20 with the global outbreak of the coronavirus.
“Despite not taking hold in the UK until the final weeks of this reporting year, the coronavirus outbreak has gone on to impact the everyday running of United Response, affecting not only our staff, but also the people we support and their families.”
The report by MPs on the Public Accounts Committee, published earlier this week, also took evidence from the care umbrella body Care England, which said that government delays meant that some “providers had to buy their own PPE at hugely inflated costs, buying from suppliers they were unfamiliar with, and running the risk of being sold substandard PPE”.
The MPs noted that the government maintained no care providers ever ran out of PPE, but said: “We heard compelling evidence from organisations representing frontline workers that stocks ran perilously low; single use items were reused; some was not fit for purpose and staff were in fear that they would run out.”