The Scottish Government has been accused of “discriminating” against the agency staff who proved vital in keeping care services running during the worst of the pandemic.
Chief executive of Aberdeen Nursing Agency, Louise Johnston, has hit out at ministers for excluding her workers from a £500 health and care worker bonus.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the boost for NHS and social care staff at the end of November, publishing additional information about the payment just before Christmas.
Mrs Johnston said her workers have been “so easily discarded” by the government, only months after ensuring the care of vulnerable people as Covid outbreaks forced regular employees to remain at home.
She told The P&J: “It was daunting going into a home where there were issues with Covid and, initially, people were exceptionally nervous before they adjusted.
“There were worries going through everyone’s heads but my workers never refused to go to work.
“They all answered the call, picked up a shift and worked long hours – these people are on the frontline of the coronavirus fight and to single them out as not being worthy of that bonus is so disappointing and quite shocking.
“During the pandemic, the contribution of agency workers has been as extraordinary as anyone else working in healthcare, often working in care homes with high levels of Covid infections among their residents and staff.
“Without agency workers these care providers would, without doubt, have struggled to cope.
“To single people out for working for an agency is ridiculous, totally unacceptable and blatantly discriminatory.”
Aberdeen Nursing Agency has around 100 workers on its books, who care for more than 50 people people in their homes as well as supplementing staffing at care homes as needed.
The Scottish Government said the payment had not been extended to agency staff, as a spokeswoman adding it would be for the employer to decide on any additional benefits.
“You must remember as well – in the early days of the pandemic, PPE was scarce on the ground so workers were not always offered marks for every client,” Mrs Johnston added.
“There were many locations struggling with their own staff off sick, they needed cover – our staff worked long hours in a number of homes in scary times.
“So they were there at the sharp end of Covid, when it struck nursing homes initially in March and April.
“Agency staff are absolutely vital to healthcare everywhere, not just Aberdeen.
“When the money was announced it was said that ‘every healthcare worker had done an extraordinary job’ and ‘they deserve a bonus as a thank you from the country’ – it was never said ‘oh agency workers don’t qualify’.
“It has made us really cross as we have worked so hard to provide a service for vulnerable people in Aberdeen be it in care homes or home care.”
Announced in November, the £500 bonus will be paid by April to carers, social workers, caterers, office staff and cleaners working full-time in care homes, supported housing, care at home, day care and hospices.
Part-time workers will be able to claim a percentage providing they are employed by councils, health boards, charities or in the private sector – but agency, self-employed and unpaid workers will not.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are hugely grateful to the efforts over recent months of the many key workers in different sectors across Scotland as they have risen to the challenge of responding to the pandemic.
“This payment is not being extended to private agency staff in the NHS or social care sector.
“For people working for private employers, it would be for their employer to determine their remuneration and any additions to existing pay which may be appropriate for these staff.
“This thank you payment recognises the particular debt we all owe to health and care staff, who have been – and continue to be – on the very front line of this crisis, helping to save lives and to protect us all. It is a straightforward thank you for their hard work and recipients are free to spend it as they wish.”