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A Labour MP has been “sacked” from her job as a care worker in a retirement village after she spoke out against a national shortage of protective equipment to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak.
Nadia Whittome, who represents Nottingham East, says she was told by care company Extra Care on Tuesday that she should not return to work after she made comments in the local and national media about the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) based on her experiences on the frontline.
The MP stressed she had not portrayed Extra Care negatively in the media. Appearing on BBC Newsnight last month, Whittome spoke about care workers using “visors that people have made at home and donated” because they don’t have the correct masks.
“We’re scared and we don’t feel as though our government is keeping us safe because there isn’t enough PPE,” she told the programme.
The 23-year-old, the UK’s youngest MP, returned to her pre-parliament job in March and said she would donate the salary from her part-time role to a local Covid-19 support fund.
Whittome had been working at Lark Hill retirement village in Nottingham.
The Extra Care Charitable Trust, which runs the site, described reports of a shortage of PPE at Lark Hill as “inaccurate” and said it has had to “invest a significant amount of staff time reassuring our residents as a result”.
Whittome said on Wednesday: “It has been an honour to return to work in social care alongside my former colleagues and many of the residents I used to care for.
“It is my duty - not just as an MP but as a front line worker with a voice in the media - to be honest about the lack of PPE and testing as this is putting the lives of care workers and those they care for at risk.
“I am appalled that Extra Care have chosen this course of action, without following any due process and without me ever having portrayed them negatively in the media. I will continue to speak the truth about my frontline experiences and I condemn care companies who try to gag staff for speaking out and raising concerns.
“I can survive being effectively sacked for speaking out, because I have another income. But for so many people in social care - who work a skilled, exhausting and now dangerous job for poverty pay - speaking out is not an option. This is wrong, and dangerous for care home residents and patients.
“I am now asking care staff up and down the country who have experienced unfair pressure, threats or disciplinary action at work for speaking out about PPE to contact my office. This information will be treated confidentially and will help to bring together a body of evidence on what many of us have known for some time - that care workers are undervalued, underpaid, not properly protected and fear speaking out due to their precarious terms of employment.”
A spokeswoman for the ExtraCare Charitable Trust told the Mirror: “Lark Hill is the largest retirement village in the UK and home to 419 older people with an average age of 82 years. Our charity’s staff are working day and night to ensure the safety and welfare of our residents who are particularly vulnerable during the Covid-19 outbreak.
“As a result of rigorous infection control measures which include a full supply of personal protective equipment, we are relieved to report that no deaths have occurred within the Lark Hill community as a result of Covid-19. Our vigilance, care and concern continue.
“We value our relationship with Nadia as we do with all MPs associated with our retirement communities. Nadia joined us as a casual worker, to help our care team and we welcomed her contribution, providing support on eight care shifts during March and April.
“Our in-house care team are now fulfilling our needs at this time and Nadia’s help is no longer needed.
“At Lark Hill, we have over three months’ supply of personal protective equipment, including over 25,000 pairs of gloves, 7,700 aprons and nearly 6,000 masks; we have access to further equipment should we need it.
“Reports that we have a PPE shortage are inaccurate and have caused concern amongst our residents; we have had to invest a significant amount of staff time reassuring our residents as a result.
“This has occurred during a critical period when all of our resources have to be focused on protecting our resident’s safety and welfare.”