Backlash at plan for compulsory Covid vaccines for care home staff

Backlash at plan for compulsory Covid jabs for carers: Industry bosses and unions warn move will worsen staffing shortage and force unvaccinated workers to ‘walk away’

  • Unison has criticised making jabs mandatory is a ‘sledgehammer approach’ 
  • The measure means 1.5m social care staff will be told to have the jab in 16 weeks 
  • Ministers are concerned about low take-up of the Covid jab among care workers 

Making Covid jabs mandatory for care home staff will force many to ‘walk away’, industry bosses and unions have warned.

They said the controversial plans, due to be formally unveiled by the Government this week, could worsen the social sector’s staffing crisis.

The policy will see 1.5million people working in social care told to get inoculated within 16 weeks — or face losing their jobs.   

Despite care workers being among one of the top priority groups for Covid jabs and being eligible since December, latest figures show just two thirds of them have had both doses of the vaccine. 

Care leaders were dragged into a meeting with Government officials over the issue at midday. The Financial Times today reported ministers are also debating whether to make flu jabs compulsory for the same staff. 

But critics have today hit out at the plans, describing the move as a ‘sledgehammer approach’ that could lead to a mass exodus of workers.

Unison trade union general secretary Christina McAnea said: ‘Research shows encouragement achieves better results with the nervous than threats or coercion.

‘The Government’s sledgehammer approach now runs the risk that some care staff may simply walk away from an already understaffed, undervalued and underpaid sector.’

The GMB union blasted ministers for ‘ploughing ahead with plans to strongarm care workers’.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is known to be in favour of the move, while England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has said doctors and care workers have a ‘professional responsibility’ to protect their patients.

Consultation is also expected to begin on whether other health workers should also have the jabs, meaning Covid vaccines could also be made compulsory for the 1.4m employed by the NHS. 

Just two thirds of care home staff have had their first vaccination in Hackney, east London, official data has shown with uptake rates among staff lowest in the capital

Industry bosses and unions have warned making Covid jabs mandatory for care staff will worsen staffing shortages and force unvaccinated workers to ‘walk away’. Pictured: Care workers at the Ashwood Court care home in Lowton, Warrington

Mike Padgham, chairman of the Independent Care Group (ICG) which represents care homes in Yorkshire, said recruitment was ‘always challenging’ before the pandemic and ‘is becoming more critical now’.

He said: ‘If this goes ahead and is compulsory then I think it will put people off coming into the service. That’s one problem.

‘The second problem is people who are already working in the service who might not want the vaccine. We are so stretched for frontline staff. 

‘It sounds easy to redeploy them but it isn’t easy to replace them when you redeploy them. And I think people will be put off.’

While his area of Yorkshire has a relatively high uptake of the jab, some parts of the country, such as London, have far lower levels among care home staff.

Hackney in east London has the lowest uptake among care home staff — who were part of the original priority groups for vaccination back in December. Just 214 out of 321 eligible staff (66.7 per cent) accepted the offer of a jab in the six months since their invite.

Five areas of the country — four of which are in London — have first dose uptake rates of less than 70 per cent.

But GMB trade union national officer Rachel Harrison described the move to make jabs for care staff mandatory as an attempt to ‘strongarm’ them into taking a vaccine.

She said: ‘The Government could do a lot to help care workers: address their pay, terms and conditions, increasing the rate of and access to contractual sick pay, banning zero hours, and ensuring more mobile NHS vaccination teams so those working night shifts can get the jab.

‘Instead, ministers are ploughing ahead with plans to strongarm care workers into taking the vaccine without taking seriously the massive blocks these workers still face in getting jabbed.’

The NHS figures going up to June 6 — the latest date data is available for — show uptake rates among care home staff are significantly lagging behind in London boroughs compared to the rest of the country

How many carers have been vaccinated in London? 

Of the ten areas in the country with the lowest first dose uptake in care workers in the country, seven were in London. 

After Hackney, they were: Wandsworth (67.5 per cent), Lambeth (67.7 per cent), Southwark (69.6 per cent), Camden (72.6 per cent), Barnet (73.2 per cent) and Waltham Forest (73.2 per cent).

And even fewer staff have had their second dose. 

Two areas of London have fully vaccinated less than 40 per cent of staff: Haringey (38.5 per cent) and Westminster (39 per cent). For comparison, 57.4 per cent of the entire UK have now had their second dose. 

Another three areas of the capital have full vaccination rates of less than half of staff: Greenwich (45 per cent), Wandsworth (45.2 per cent) and Lambeth (47.1 per cent).  

Health chiefs said its response to the consultation will be published ‘in due course’ and cabinet minister Liz Truss this morning said the Government’s decision would be announced imminently, even though Whitehall sources had already revealed it was going ahead. 

No decision has yet been made on whether vaccination should be made mandatory for the 1.4million who work for the NHS. A separate consultation on that is to be launched.

Ministers are concerned about low take-up of the coronavirus vaccine among care workers, who include care home staff plus home helps.  

MailOnline analysis today showed 83.7 per cent of carers looking after elderly residents have had their first jab, meaning nearly 80,000 are still to be reached. 

Meanwhile, data also shows just 68.7 per cent are fully vaccinated. But rates vary wildly across the country, and are as low as 38.5 per cent in Haringey, north London. 

Five areas of the country — four of which are in London — have first dose uptake rates of less than 70 per cent. 

For comparison, six areas of the country have uptake rates of more than 90 per cent and second doses have been handed out to more than 80 per cent of staff in eight areas of the country.

Tens of thousands of care home residents died in the pandemic, largely as a result of infections being brought in by staff during the first wave. 

Organisations representing care firms and their staff have warned that the move could backfire and see workers quit rather than agree to have the jab.

The social care sector already faces a workforce shortage as a result of years of underfunding, and an exodus of staff would make it harder to meet the expected upsurge in demand once the pandemic subsides.

The move also raises questions about how care homes treat staff who refuse a mandatory jab, and whether they have to be moved into other roles, and over whether the Government could face a legal challenge. 

Research published last month by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) found black African and mixed black African staff are almost twice as likely to decline a vaccination as white British and white Irish participants.

Sandra Mounier-Jack, associate professor in health policy at LSHTM said: ‘Covid vaccination is here with us for the long haul, and social and health care staff are key prescriptors of the vaccine so positive engagement with them is essential.

Despite care workers being among one of the top priority groups for Covid jabs, latest figures show that just two thirds of them have had both doses of the vaccine

‘A survey conducted by LSHTM in January to February this year revealed that participants that reported greater agreement with the statement “I feel/felt under pressure from my employer to get a Covid-19 vaccine” were significantly more likely to decline the Covid vaccine even after demographic factors were controlled for.

‘Interviews with health care staff and particularly social care workers suggested that placing staff under pressure to vaccinate may paradoxically entrench negative attitudes to vaccination.’

And Helen Bedford, professor of children’s health at University College London Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health said: ‘Although only a small proportion of care home workers are currently vaccinated, we have seen uptake increase in other age groups and population groups where there was initial hesitancy. 

‘This is a result of recommending, offering, and ensuring easy access to Covid-19 vaccine, as well as eliciting and responding to any concerns and questions. 

‘Encouraging vaccination is always preferable to a mandatory requirement. Indeed, evidence from a recent study of health and care workers suggests that where they felt pressured to have the vaccine, they were less likely to do so. 

‘Trust in the vaccine and in the organisation recommending it are vital to ensuring vaccine acceptance and any perceived pressure can undermine that trust and may make people more resistant.’

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