Care homes in parts of England could lose up to a fifth of their staff in a few weeks’ time after tens of thousands of workers missed a deadline to get their first Covid jab before mandatory vaccination kicks in.
After 11 November, staff will be excluded from working in care homes if they are not fully vaccinated. To meet this deadline, the last chance for workers to get their first dose was 16 September, given the time needed between a first and second jab.
The figures mean care homes may soon face losing one in 13 of their workers, with only 92.3% of staff reported to be vaccinated by the cutoff. A further 41,308 workers still needed to get their second jab before 11 November if they are to remain working.
The adult social care sector, including but not limited to care homes, already has around 112,000 vacancies at any one time – a vacancy rate of 7.3% – according to the latest estimates from charity Skills for Care, covering 2019-20.
In some areas, the strain on providers could be massive.
Doncaster stands to be the worst affected, with only 80.9% of staff vaccinated with a first dose on time. That could wipe out a fifth of its care home workforce in one fell swoop when the legal restrictions kick in.
Second worst hit will be Greenwich, with a vaccine uptake rate of 83.6%, followed by Birmingham, with 84.8%.
Government guidance states that providers should “explore all options” to redeploy unvaccinated staff elsewhere, but that dismissal will remain an option if this is not possible.
Staff who can prove they cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons will be exempt.
The vaccination figures quoted include both permanent and agency staff employed by independent and local authority-run care homes for people aged 65 and over, and independent care homes for adults aged under 65.
Any staff employed directly by councils in younger adult care homes are missing from the figures – but the vast majority of care staff in England work for independent providers.
NationalWorld asked Doncaster, Greenwich and Birmingham councils how they planned to cope with the looming crisis.
Doncaster Council disputed the figures, saying it was not aware it had low uptake among its staff. A spokesperson said no providers had escalated any staffing concerns to the council, and it is “extremely confident” there will be no disruption.
Greenwich Council also said the figures were “wholly inaccurate” due to data quality and reporting issues, and that it is working with providers to ensure the data is accurate.
NHS England however has been publishing the data on a weekly basis since the vaccine rollout began in December, and has flagged no data quality issues with NationalWorld.
Figures showing over 90% uptake quoted by Doncaster Council to NationalWorld appeared to refer to a smaller group of staff than those in the NHS England data, with more than 600 staff members unaccounted for in the council’s data.
Birmingham Council admitted it had some homes where fewer than half of staff had been vaccinated, with a spokesperson saying it was having weekly contact with those homes and others “assessed as being of high risk”.
It is also working closely with providers to ensure they have business continuity plans in place, and supporting providers to understand why their staff are reluctant to get jabbed.
The Local Government Association said many care home staff could get higher wages in supermarkets, and that the Government should raise wages in an extra effort to persuade them to stay and get vaccinated.
Chairman of LGA’s community wellbeing board, David Fothergill, said: ““Care providers have undoubtedly found this new requirement challenging and the care workforce should be supported through other measures, such as increased pay or improved terms and conditions, which could form part of a long-term, sustainable solution for adult social care.”
Care England, which represents providers, warned earlier this month that the sector was “at breaking point” over recruitment and retention – even before the loss of unvaccinated workers.
Chief executive Professor Martin Green said: “The writing is on the wall and without immediate help, as given to the NHS, the social care sector will crumple and not be there to support the NHS over the winter let alone in years to come”.
Rachel Harrison, national officer of the GMB union, which represents some care staff, said bosses were now having to think about how to keep residents safe.
"Forced vaccination of our embattled care workers is an insensitive and cruel way to address vaccine hesitancy,” she said.
"If employers and ministers are to tackle the vacancy crisis then they must drop this policy, fix poverty sick pay rates, and raise pay – GMB is demanding no less than the £15 an hour that care workers deserve.”
NationalWorld asked the DHSC if it would be pressing ahead with the rule change, in the face of a potentially massive loss of staff.
A spokesperson said: “Our message is clear: vaccines save lives and it is our responsibility to do everything we can to reduce the risk for vulnerable people in care homes.
“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.”
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