Portsmouth meals on wheels delivery driver calls for PPE during coronavirus pandemic

A MEALS on wheels firm employee says she and other drivers should be issued with protective gear as they make their deliveries.

By Steve Deeks
Wednesday, 22nd April 2020, 3:24 pm
Updated Friday, 24th April 2020, 5:40 pm

Asthma sufferer Sonjia Thacker, 59, is an Apetito employee in Portsmouth and drops off meals to the elderly and vulnerable across the city. Apetito has the contract from Portsmouth City Council for social care food deliveries.

Sonjia, of Southsea, says she wants personal protective equipment - or PPE - as part of her job and has written to Apetito’s chief executive to make her case.

But Apetito says it is following government guidelines and advice from Public Health England, and that at present these guidelines specify it is not necessary.

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Sonjia Thacker and her son Steven

In the letter to chief executive Paul Freeston, Sonjia said: ‘I am increasingly concerned at the non-existence of PPE available to us to enable a safe undertaking of delivery of meals to our customers.

‘At present we are still going into clients’ homes, having direct one-to-one contact with the client by way of getting their cutlery out for them, dishing up their meal and then handing the meal to the client which means therefore, that the government recommendation of 2m distancing is not possible.

‘As a team, we feel that we have been let down by you, the CEO of Apetito, and upper management.’

Apetito has said that its national policy is that where it is necessary to go into an individual’s home, the required 2m distance should be maintained at all times. The firm says that if drivers do need to plate the meal, they should plate it away from the recipient, before putting it on a table, maintaining social distance at all times.

Responding to Sonjia, Mr Freeston, in an email seen by The News, said: ‘The health and safety of our staff is of critical importance to us and we have sought to follow the Public Health England/government guidelines at all times and with great care.’

And an Apetito spokeswoman said that all deliverers are told to observe 2m of social distancing between clients to reduce the risk of transmitting coronavirus.

She added that where recipients of meals are isolating, the company has a ‘strict’ policy of leaving meals at people’s doorsteps before adding: ‘I would like to stress that we make no compromise on staff safety.

‘This is of paramount importance to everyone within the Apetito business during the Covid-19 pandemic, and we continue to liaise with Public Health England and the Portsmouth local authority to ensure best practice and the utmost professionalism at all times.

‘We are proud of our workers and the role the company is playing at this time of national crisis.’

The city council says it has met Apetito to discuss whether more measures could be taken for staff.

In a statement, health councillor at Portsmouth City Council Matthew Winnington said: ‘Council officers have met with Apetito to discuss their coronavirus contingency plan and what further measures they could take to protect staff and customers.

‘Apetito Portsmouth are implementing the protective processes that the organisation applies nationally, and have agreed to explore further measures put forward by the council.’

An earlier version of this story said that Apetito had closed depots elsewhere in the country after staff contracted Covid-19 whilst making deliveries. We are happy to clarify that this is not the case.