No jabs no job: chaos as new care home vaccine policy comes into force

11 November 2021, 10:09 | Updated: 11 November 2021, 11:35

From Thursday, frontline care home workers in England must be fully vaccinated against Covid
From Thursday, frontline care home workers in England must be fully vaccinated against Covid. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Care homes are embroiled in disciplinary proceedings, a care group has said, as the Government's vaccine mandate for care home staff comes into force.

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Tens of thousands of care home staff who have not received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine will be unable to legally work in care homes from Thursday.

The National Care Forum (NCF) said some of its members estimate they will lose about eight per cent of their staff as a result - a workforce cut the sector is ill-equipped to deal with due to the pressures it faces.

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In the survey, members also said they spent an "enormous amount of time" implementing the policy, with almost all holding extra staff briefings and needing additional HR resources.

Nearly 60 per cent of members also reported running disciplinary hearings, and nearly half managing appeals, related to the mandate.

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"Since the introduction of this policy we have been vocal about the unnecessary high cost - in terms of human costs, financial costs and the loss in trust and goodwill amongst care staff and their employers as a direct result of this policy," said NCF chief executive Vic Rayner.

"Care homes have been the unwitting guinea pigs through the implementation of this policy, and the impact on people must not be swept under the carpet.

"It is vital that the Government learns from this experience and makes changes for the wider rollout of this policy.

"As we face a very difficult winter ahead, lessons must be learnt in how not to introduce a policy that has long term consequences on the very people we need to deliver the care and support many people and communities rely on."

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From Thursday staff working in registered care homes in England must have had both jabs to continue in their role, unless they are medically exempt.

Four days before the deadline, official figures showed 50,000 staff in care homes were not fully vaccinated - although at least half had had one dose, and some of those that have not are exempt.

If staff have had one dose but are planning on getting a second, care home providers can choose to place them on paid or unpaid leave until they receive both doses.

They can also choose to redeploy unvaccinated staff to non-frontline roles.

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It is currently unclear how many staff have already quit due to the mandate - whilst NHS figures show the number of care home staff fell by 4,000 between mid-September and October, there are likely a number of reasons for this.

The care sector is suffering unprecedented staffing shortages.

The Government has allocated £162.5 million to help with workforce issues, and last week launched a national recruitment campaign to fill more than 100,000 social care vacancies.

Care groups have said the shortages mean some homes are unable to accept hospital patients ready for discharge, while burnout is on the cards for staff who are being put under increased pressure as winter nears.

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A manager, who has lost a sixth of her staff, said she found it "heartbreaking" reading the resignation letters of long-standing employees who did not want to leave.

There were calls to move the deadline for the care home vaccine mandate to April 2022 to bring it in line with the NHS's, and avoid a staffing crisis over the crucial winter period.

The Department of Health and Social Care said it was its "responsibility to do everything we can to protect vulnerable people".

A spokesman added: "We consulted and worked closely with the sector to encourage take-up of the vaccine ahead of the deadline.

"Since the consultation was announced, uptake of the first dose amongst care home staff has risen from 80 per cent to 94 per cent.

"We are working closely with local authorities and care home providers to ensure there will always be enough staff with the right skills to deliver high-quality care."