Feature: ‘Draconian’ no jab, no job laws exacerbating care staffing crisis

Campaigners say ministers are ‘sleepwalking into a disaster’ by failing to act as the mandatory vaccination rule pushes thousands to the brink of quitting care work.

Care home staff have until September 16 to get their first vaccination or face the sack. Despite this fast-approaching deadline, there is no sign the government has a realistic plan to deal with the fall-out from its draconian policy, says UNISON.

The union is calling on the government to immediately repeal ‘no jab, no job’ laws for care home staff in England to avert a staffing crisis that threatens to overwhelm the sector.

An exodus has already begun of workers who are hesitant about the jab or feel they are being bullied into it. UNISON said it has received concerning reports of care homes struggling to meet levels of staffing that comply with safety requirements set by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Staff have contacted the union to say they are heartbroken to have to leave the jobs they love. However, many feel totally undervalued and bullying is the last straw for them.

The government’s own calculations* estimate that mandatory vaccination could result in up to 70,000 care workers leaving their roles in a sector that already had huge vacancy levels of more than 110,000**.

Mandatory vaccination has been a massive distraction from the core job of care, says UNISON. It has also diverted time and resources from employers and the government when they should have been seeking to boost trust and confidence in the vaccine.

UNISON is also calling for an urgent cash injection to boost pay to at least the real living wage rate of £9.50 an hour (£10.85 in London), and attract recruits to what are crucial and skilled roles.

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: ‘Vaccination remains the way out of the pandemic. But coercing and bullying people can never be the right approach.

‘Ministers have been told repeatedly that using force instead of persuasion will fail. But they’ve not listened and now their ill-considered policy is backfiring.

‘The government is sleepwalking into this disaster by not acting. Care is already a broken and underfunded sector that cannot afford to lose any more staff.

‘The government must scrap the ‘no jab, no job’ rule now. Widespread care home closures could be the consequence if they ignore the warnings. This would be disastrous for elderly people and those who cannot live without care support.’

woman in black and white polka dot shirt holding white plastic tube

Care England has also written to the minister of state for social care, Helen Whately, asking for guidance and support regarding vaccination as a condition of deployment.

The provider said the policy, which is exclusive to residential adult social care settings, is undermining the parity between the NHS and social care and impacting the recruitment of staff.

Staff who work in residential care who do not want to be vaccinated are likely to transfer into home care, supported living or the NHS.

Care England is calling for clarity in relation to when the wider consultation, which will encompass the wider social care sector, the NHS and flu vaccine, will be provided.

Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said: ‘We are now under two weeks away from the September 16, which represents the last date for care home workers to get their first dose so that they are fully vaccinated by the time the regulations come into force.

‘We are yet to receive any clarity as to when we can expect the process or guidance around exemptions to be launched. This continued lack of clarity undermines the workability of the policy and only accentuates the current workforce issues within the sector.

‘Providers are in the midst of a perfect storm. The sector is operating against a backdrop of a multitude of workforce pressures and this lack of clarity only compounds these issues.

‘We implore the Department of Health and Social Care to remain transparent with the sector and give it the help that it needs, as after all this is a centrally imposed policy which the sector is now having to manage, largely without central support.’

A Department of Health and Social Care Spokesperson said details on VCOD exemptions are currently being finalised and updated guidance will be available shortly.

‘The vast majority of care staff are already vaccinated and, ahead of the November deadline, we are focusing on encouraging even more staff to get jabbed to protect their colleagues and those they care for.’

This comes after a UNISON survey revealed care staff were nearly twice as likely to turn down a Covid jab if they’d been threatened or not given vaccination advice by their employer.

The union said the findings, based on responses from more than 4,000 workers across the UK, including those in care homes and out in the community, suggested forcing care employees to get the jab is likely to backfire.

It said widespread take-up of the Covid-19  vaccine across the care workforce is essential. But predicted government plans for mandatory vaccinations would be counterproductive and could trigger employee shortages in a sector already in crisis.

Photo Credit – CDC


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