Union warns care workers not to use UK government Covid-19 app | Society

Care workers have been warned by a trade union not to use a government app meant to help them during the coronavirus pandemic because it allows their managers to identify staff who have complained about pay, testing and personal protective equipment.

Matt Hancock launched a mobile app last week for 1.5 million people in the adult social care workforce which was supposed to distribute policy updates and infection control advice through smartphones.

The Care Workforce app promised to help “care workers get access to guidance, learning resources, discounts and other support all in one place”.

But the GMB union has advised members to avoid using the app because it has a webchat function which is insecure, and it gives managers access to what are presumed to be private messages.

Documents seen by the Guardian include a claim by one named care worker that an employer had failed to pay the minimum wage.

“Was paid yesterday and noticed my wages didn’t go up to the minimum wage on April 1st, I think it’s a disgrace, we’re all working so hard and risking ourselves and our families’ lives coming in contact with the virus and now I’m being underpaid!”

Another complained of a lack of PPE, saying it was “wrong that you only get £95 for sick pay when you get infected”.

And a third, who was identifiable by their name, said: “It is ridiculous that staff have to sort out testing ourselves. Our employers should sort it out.”

Rehana Azam, GMB’s national secretary, said the app had already exposed many care workers to the possibility of sanctions and urged them not to use it.

“Exposing users’ personal details on this app in this way is grossly incompetent at best – but we say it’s a downright betrayal of key workers whichever way you look at it,” she said.

“Health and care workers are terrified of speaking out about the dangerous lack of PPE in case they get reprimanded or sacked by their employer for raising the issue.

“Now the government launches an app that slaps their private data all over the place for anyone to see. Bosses can quite easily use it to spy on workers, see what they’re saying and potentially sanction them.”

Azam said Hancock was to blame for the “disaster”.

At the app’s launch in March, the health and social care secretary called on all care workers to download the app.

“We have launched a new app specifically for care workers to make sure they have the most up-to-date guidance to keep them safe, connected with their colleagues across the country, which also allows them to access discounts like their NHS counterparts.

“It’s available to download right now, and I would urge everyone in social care to do so,” he said.

To register, workers must provide their name, email and region and the postcode of their employer. Optional additional information includes the name of a worker’s employer.

According to the union, the app’s webchat function can be searched and discloses personal information about carers.

On registering, users are sent an email directly projecting web chat comments by other users, which may be sensitive or revealing, including information about whether carers have been tested for Covid-19.

The government said the Care Workforce app was developed by NHSX but it was built on a system operated by Hive Learning Limited, a private firm.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “No personal data from the Care Workforce app can be or will be used for the distribution of marketing information from private organisations.

“A chat function is not available on the app, but a commenting function is included to allow the workforce to network and provide peer support. This is not an anonymous function, and comments are accessible to all users who register to the app as members of the adult social care workforce.”

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