Private social care providers were particularly likely "to bend the rules to suit their business needs" during the pandemic, the Scottish Covid Inquiry has heard.

A charity which assisted health and social care workers to raise concerns about unsafe working practices said it dealt with more than 460 cases via its Covid helpline and contacted around 50 employers directly to resolve issues.

Eilish Lindsay, who is acting for Scottish Hazards at the Scottish Covid Inquiry, said the charity received "regular calls" from health and social care workers who wished to remain anonymous due to "fear of reprisal".

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She said: "There would often be calls from workers concerned about working conditions but they felt unable to vocalise this directly with their employers...They were scared to speak up in case they lost their jobs."

Ms Lindsay told the inquiry that the charity does "not consider that all employers within health and social care were taking the law and statutory guidance seriously".

She added: "They were trying to bend the rules to suit their business needs with complete disregard for their employees. This was a particular issue within some private social care settings."

The Scottish Government had introduced "far reaching measures" relating to social distancing, masks, testing, and self-isolation without "adequate means to ensure those measures were being followed" in workplaces, said Ms Lindsay.

The Herald:

Statistics have shown that the Covid death rate among social care workers in Scotland was around two and a half times higher than their NHS colleagues.

Scottish Hazards campaigns to improve health and safety, occupational health, and provides representation for non-unionised workers including those on zero-hours contracts.

Ms Lindsay said it had stepped in to help workers when employers were "unwilling to accommodate shielding or working from home measures despite government guidance", which again was a "particular issue" in the private social care sector.

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She said: "There were general attitudes of employers in which care workers were expected to go out and do their job as normal, therefore their admin teams should be doing the same.

"They were essentially disregarding the guidance in place for the safety of workers to suit their own business needs".

As well as clinically vulnerable workers, those from black and ethnic minorities and those on low-paid and "precarious" contracts were put at "disproportionate" risk during the pandemic, said Ms Lindsay.

The Herald: Eilish Lindsay is acting for Scottish HazardsEilish Lindsay is acting for Scottish Hazards (Image: PA)

This included an expectation that they would use public transport to visit multiple clients in the community "with little regard for the risk to both them as an individual and the risk to the service users".

At the same time, they faced "difficult situations" with regards to personal protective equipment.

She said: "They needed access to this equipment and they weren't able to get it. As a result of these shortages, health and social care workers were being left with no PPE, being required to re-use PPE, or being required to use inappropriate PPE and risk their own health whilst doing so.

"That's a serious issue that must be considered during the course of this inquiry."