A GROUP of trade unons represening 120,000 local authority workers have warned lives are being put at risk because of an "inconsistent" approach to handling Covid-19 across the country.

The leading trade unions in local government have appealed to the First Minister to intervene on an ongoing issue with supplying Personal Protective Equipment to health workers, concerns about employees being able to observe social distancing measures, worries about a lack of testing for frontline workers, and confusion around what a key worker is.

A letter raising concerns has been supported by Unite, GMB and Unison collectively who represent many of whom are on the frontline delivering essential services and providing care to vulnerable groups.

The latest coronavirus daily death toll in the UK rose sharply to 381, taking the overall number of deaths to 1,789, as of 5pm on Monday.

The Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) says the virus is so widespread and infectious, and the risks to frontline staff so great, that everyone in hospital should always have their mouth covered to reduce the risk of transmission.

The HCSA is demanding the change in the wake of the death of two hospital doctors, Amged El-Hawrani and Adil El Tayar, from coronavirus. Hawrani, aged 55, was an ear, nose and throat specialist while Tayar was a transplant surgeon.

The trade unions have been involved in ongoing discussions with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) on their response to this crisis but say they are now "increasingly concerned that the lack of urgency and consistency is now putting service users and workers at risk", and that it now requires the First Minister’s direct intervention.

On PPE they say there are ongoing concerns regarding the availability and quality of PPE for workers. There are specific issues regarding availability for those working with vulnerable users in home care settings and the need for urgent clarification over the self-isolation for workers who have been in close contact with service users confirmed as having the virus.

READ MORE: Michael Gove - coronavirus testing must go 'further and faster'

It had "serious concerns" about the ability of workers to observe social distancing measures at work, saying there are particular difficulties with workers being told to travel to sites in the same vehicle – in waste and home care services in particular.

It said there was an "urgent need" to test frontline workers in accordance with World Health Organisation guidance saying there appears to be "no strategy or consistency currently about when tests will be rolled out and who will be tested".

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They said there was a need for greater clarity around who meets the definition of a ‘key worker’ saying there are many situations where some workers in some authorities are being deemed ‘key workers’ and others are not.

It also said there was a need for a one nation policy on residential waste collection. 32 local authorities are doing different things – some maintaining a full service, others closing all waste and recycling centres.

The Joint Trade Unions said: “Unite, GMB and Unison have been raising a number of key concerns in relation to the inconsistent and ultimately dangerous approach to dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic with COSLA. We believe that local government workers, and those in the third and private sectors, delivering services must be protected in terms of their health both physical and mental.

READ MORE: Coronavirus - Teenager with no underlying health conditions dies in UK

"To date this is not being done anywhere near effectively enough. We are on the brink of the peak of the pandemic and still there exist major concerns over social distancing, personal protective equipment, the definition of who is a key worker and the availability of testing for those workers in local authorities and those providing services on behalf of them, particularly in the home care sector.

"The trade unions appreciate that this is an unprecedented time but the flimsy and inconsistent guidance that is currently being issued by local authorities is putting lives at risk. We need a national response and this must come from the First Minister’s lead to ensure that the advice is clear, consistent and comprehensive.”

Nicola Sturgeon told Parliament on Wednesday that testing has been ramped up from "an ability to do 750 tests a day a couple of weeks ago to be able to do 1900 a day now".   In the course of the next month that will rise again to 3,500.

On PPE, she said in four to six weeks 34m items of equipment have been delivered, this week 8m were being sent.

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"We do have reasonably good supplies of all key items at this stage," she said.  "It is important to say we may face challenges in the future as global pressure on supplies continues to intensify.

"We have also taken steps to improve not just the supply but distribution of PPE.

"There is an absolutely fundamental principal at stake here... given everything health care workers are doing to protect us right now, we must do everything we can to protect them."

Warnings about a lack of PPE hit the headlines two weeks ago when NHS staff say they are being put at risk during the coronavirus outbreak.

Health workers also then expressed concerns that not enough of them were being tested for the virus.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK had "stockpiles" of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden, from lobbying group the Doctors' Association, said she had heard from doctors who had not got access to PPE - or it had expired or run out.

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