Matt Hancock’s mandatory Covid vaccine policy for care home workers in England will turn managers into jab “bouncers”, sector leaders have warned as growing numbers of staff say they would rather quit than be vaccinated.
The health secretary’s announcement that tradespeople, visiting NHS staff, hairdressers and other workers who serve sites on a daily basis will also have to be double jabbed by the autumn, will leave care homes struggling with an “unworkable door policy”, according to the National Care Forum (NCF) which represents not-for-profit care homes.
It threatens to become a “logistical nightmare”, said the NCF, which has identified 35 other types of key workers, from entertainers to legionnaires’ disease inspectors, which care homes will not be allowed to admit unless they are double jabbed.
The body fears the new regulations, drawn wider than first expected, will leave care homes legally responsible for verifying vaccination status of people over whom they have no employment oversight. Other care operators have warned it will exacerbate an existing national care worker shortage by driving some staff away.
“If I am forced to have the vaccine, I will change my job,” said a care worker in Worcester. “I do not believe that the vaccine is better than my own body immunity.”
A 21-year-old care worker in Middlesborough, who is afraid the vaccine may affect her fertility, told the Guardian: “I would never want to hurt the people I work with but this is causing me so much stress over possibly losing my job.”
Barchester, one of the largest private operators, launched a no jab, no job policy in the spring and said it had lost about 100 staff as a result. But it claimed it is attracting others who want to work in a fully vaccinated environment.
The new regulation requiring double vaccination of care workers in all adult care homes is likely to be effective from October. It comes after a minority of staff showed persistent vaccine hesitancy. More than six months after the vaccine rollout began, only 65% of care homes in England had the minimum staff uptake of 80% for one dose advised by the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).
In parts of London, a majority of care workers in old age care homes are still not double jabbed while between 40% and 50% have not received both doses in Manchester, Luton and Milton Keynes, according to NHS figures. Covid deaths in English care homes up to the end of last week are running at less than two a day, compared with more than 260 a day in January 2021 but there has been a slight rise in the number of outbreaks from 10 to 16 over a week, according to the latest data from Public Health England, published on Thursday.
“The policy applies as much to the registered manager running the home as it does to the person carrying out the annual audit of fire extinguishers,” said Vic Rayner, executive director of the NCF. “While this may be seen to be a logical step, it is a logistical nightmare for care homes.”
Rayner said the suggestion that people who refused the vaccine could be redeployed was “not meaningful” because there are few care sector jobs that don’t require being in a care home. This was “unhelpful when the sector is already facing at least 112,000 vacancies”, she said.
Care homes are pleading with the government to indemnify them against legal claims from staff who refuse and to provide support to persuade workers to take the vaccine.
“All care providers want to see staff vaccination rates as high as possible and have been working towards this aim,” Rayner said. “However, unless more detail and support are rapidly provided, the government runs the risk of making what appears to be the right path into an impenetrable maze.”
Sally Ann Imrie, 44, who works nights as a care assistant in a care home in Hull, said she would rather lose her job of 15 years han take the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“It is discrimination against care workers and I for one cannot believe this is happening. I will lose my job that I love because I am not offered a choice of vaccine. It is disgraceful.”
“It’s disgusting what government doing,” said Christina, 40, in Chelmsford. “They are taking our freedom with lies.”
But Steve Clarke, 50, a nurse in Bournemouth, said: “To even train as a student nurse, all of your vaccines have to be up to date. Why is this any different? If you don’t want to have it, maybe you should consider a different career.”