Care homes in England could face “catastrophic” staff shortages unless the government scraps its Covid-19 vaccination deadline for workers in the sector, unions warn.
Unison has urged ministers to abandon the “draconian” no jab, no job policy, while the GMB warned it could lead to an “exodus” of workers.
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When is the vaccine deadline for care workers?
Care workers must have received their first vaccine dose by 15 September and be double jabbed by 11 November, or they will be banned from entering care homes in England.
However, GMB has estimated that up to 70,000 care home workers in England may not be fully vaccinated by the November deadline, putting many care homes at risk of closing.
The mandatory jab policy has been blamed for the “severe staffing crisis” faced by the sector, with Unison saying that many care agencies can no longer provide emergency cover.
The union has urged the government to focus its efforts on encouraging hesitant workers to come forward for the jab amid fears care homes could close, rather than resorting to ultimatums.
Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Everyone that can have the vaccine, should have the vaccine, but the government has persisted with a heavy-handed approach despite warnings from care employers of the dire consequences.
“This move is damaging a sector already on its knees and undermining trust in the vaccine.
“If roles can’t be filled, the level and volume of care offered will be reduced.
“Instead of encouraging much-needed recruitment into care, the government is actively driving experienced staff away.”
GMB added that the jab policy could be the last straw for care workers after years of “inadequate” pay and conditions, and stressed that forcing workers to get vaccinated is not the way to combat jab hesitancy.
GMB national officer Rachel Harrison said: “Care is already facing a staffing black hole of 170,000 by the end of the year.
“Even in a best-case scenario we will lose tens of thousands of key workers if the jab is forced on them.
“How will care bosses deal with these huge staffing vacancies? How can they reassure people residents will receive safe care?”
Staff can self-certify as medically exempt
Care home staff in England will be able to temporarily “self-certify” as medically exempt from getting a Covid-19 vaccine and continue working in care homes, the government has said.
Pregnant care home workers and those with short-term medical conditions will also be able to apply for a “time-limited exemption” from the mandatory vaccination policy.
The government has said employees and volunteers will be able to self-certify that they meet the medical exemption criteria on a temporary basis, but this will only be in place for a “short period” before the new NHS Covid pass system is introduced, after which workers will need to apply for formal medical exemption.
The self-certified exemptions will expire 12 weeks after the launch of the new system, according to the letter from Claire Armstrong, director of adult social care delivery,
Those covered include people with a severe allergy to the vaccines, those who had adverse reactions to their first dose, people who are receiving end-of-life care and people with learning disabilities, autism or with a combination of impairments who find vaccination distressing because of their condition.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Over 90% of care home staff have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine ahead of the 11 November deadline and we encourage even more staff to get vaccinated to protect their colleagues and those they care for.
“Temporarily, those who meet the criteria for a medical exemption will be able to self-certify until we introduce a new system.
“This will ensure those with medical exemptions can continue working in care homes.”
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