Posted: 23.06.20 at 17:32 by By Eddie Bisknell
Derby’s vital hospital porters claim they have been left to eat their meals in corridors and store their belongings in rubbish bins.
The anti-Covid measures enforced on more than 150 porters at Royal Derby Hospital, employed by private firm ISS, have left them feeling “let down”, “betrayed” and undervalued.
The porters say that within the past week, they have had their various break rooms closed off – leaving them nowhere to change out of uniforms potentially infected with Covid-19.
Portering, cleaning and caretaking staff – employed by ISS – are now planning a walk out in July over workplace conditions.
Hospital porters carry out many of the much-needed daily tasks which are vital for keeping the healthcare service running smoothly but are paid the minimum wage.
This includes restocking supplies such as personal protective equipment and moving patients in wheelchairs and beds around the hospital.
As one porter told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We are frontline staff and are the only people in the hospital to go on to every area and ward.”
A number of porters have raised concerns with the LDRS anonymously.
They claim to have been “threatened” with the sack when raising that they might speak to the press.
Their low pay – £8.72 an hour – means that staff cannot afford to pay for meals on site in the hospital restaurant, especially on a regular basis.
For some of the pandemic, their wages were hiked to £9.21 per hour but this is to be returned to minimum wage.
A typical shift is eight to 12 hours but some porters work 16 hours a day and sometimes for six or seven days a week.
Porter staff did have access to six break rooms across the Royal Derby Hospital site but due to social distancing guidance these were closed off on June 17 – despite remaining open throughout the peak of the pandemic.
Staff speaking to the LDRS say social distancing is possible within the rooms due to the staggering of shift patterns throughout the day.
Porters also claim they have not been tested for Covid-19 or offered antibody tests – an issue they say falls with the University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust.
They say the trust is in charge of the order of priority for testing.
The trust says staff are being given antibody tests in phases with priority for black and minority ethnic employees and those who are particularly vulnerable.
Staff are not being ordered by job title and porters will be eligible for antibody tests.
It said all porter staff will be able to self-refer to get a Covid-19 test, applied for through a national system with local testing centres.
Images sent to the LDRS by hospital porters show a sign on one of the break rooms saying it has been closed and to remove any belongings or food.
Another photo shows that the fridge was removed from the room to prevent food – and in some cases medicine – being stored.
Other photos show that porter staff have now taken to storing their clothes and personal items in industrial size waste bins outside in a sealed courtyard.
One porter told the LDRS: “Many of us worked tirelessly during the peak of Covid-19 only to be treated like this, many did 14 hours to help with the demand the virus caused and many are now helping with the enormous backlog.
“All was well, until suddenly with no warning all break rooms and fridges were removed and we were told we had no where to put our belongings
“We have been told to use the restaurant, which is already quite busy, and if there are too many people there we are to eat off site as they have told us it’s unprofessional to eat on the corridors.
“A cost of a meal from the restaurant with a drink is around £7 which many can’t afford as they have people who depend on them with an array of different circumstances.”
Another Derby porter, speaking to the LDRS anonymously, said: “This has caused members of staff to be eating on public corridors during the pandemic, unsafely store food in unrefrigerated areas and also members of staff have been storing personal possessions in bins in the hope that their stuff stays safe.
“We as porters are on very little money, so buying food on site is extremely hard especially when on long days and we would require multiple meals. We have recently been informed our rate of pay would be again dropping this time to minimum wage.
“The lack of facilities given to us has meant we are having to go home in uniform causing a huge risk of infection to members of the public and possible vulnerable people.
“We are all feeling extremely let down by this. People feel betrayed and saddened.
“We are extremely disappointed and feel we just aren’t cared about or valued in any way. We have all worked so hard during the pandemic and have constantly been moving Covid patients around the hospital – both dead and alive.”
A spokesperson for ISS said: “ISS is committed to the wellbeing of our employees and we greatly value our teams and the work that they continue to provide, particularly through the Covid-19 pandemic.
“All spaces within the hospital have been reviewed, including staff areas to ensure they are compliant with social distancing.
“The porters mess has been closed as a rest area and a room adjacent has been made available to store personal belongings and we are trying to source additional storage.
“Employees are invited to take their breaks in the large restaurant where social distancing can be adhered to.
“Porters have received all of the same benefits as other employees including free car parking, free food for eight weeks during the peak of the pandemic and access to local and national discount schemes.
“The ISS management team are available onsite to discuss any concerns that employees may have.”
Krishna Kallianpur, interim chief nurse at UHDB said: “Porters are extremely valued members of our team and have played a key role in our response to the pandemic.
“The past few months have been challenging and we’ve had to adapt to on-going change as our response to the virus evolves.
“In some areas we’ve closed smaller staff rooms and redirected staff to larger spaces where social distancing can be followed.
“We’ve also been able to offer free car parking and food to all staff to support their wellbeing.
“We’re grateful to everyone who has played their part in keeping our hospitals running so that we can care for patients.”