It is crunch time for social care providers in trying to encourage their staff to have the vaccine by September 16th so they are fully vaccinated by the time the regulations come into force on November 11.
Some providers see the employment of foreign workers going some way to alleviating the problem and are urging the government to have the visas of foreign care workers fast-tracked. Providers have warned the home secretary, as the looming deadline for double-jabbed carers triggers a staffing crisis.
Speeding up the immigration process
Priti Patel is being urged to help stem the impending “collapse” of the care sector by speeding up the immigration process that enables carers from abroad to live and work in the UK.
Managers are already offering "golden hellos" and referral bonuses worth hundreds-of-pounds in a desperate bid to entice UK nationals to work in the embattled sector.
However, providers are now warning that it is not just the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) that has a part to play in staving off the collapse of the sector, but also the Home Office, amid “crunch time” calls to reduce the time period for sponsorship licence applications that enable foreign workers to come to the UK.
Catastrophe and sector collapse
Geoff Butcher, CEO of Blackadder Corporation Ltd, which owns residential and care homes for the elderly, claims that: People are using the words ‘catastrophe’ and ‘sector collapse’.
Mr Butcher, who is responsible for 220 residents across six homes in the Midlands, added that the majority of foreign care workers are from India, Nigeria and The Philippines.
“There’s a reasonable pipeline of skilled workers who want to come here, but it’s 16 weeks minimum to get them in. We could say to the home secretary that we have a health crisis, so let’s bring them in and this could make a big difference in the short-term. It may be plugging the gap, but the immediate problem now is with lead times”.
“This is crunch time,” he added. “The worst case scenario is that care homes will reduce their capacity, be decommissioned and quite a number of them will collapse. Residents will either have to stay at home or go into the NHS system and that's just shunting the problem elsewhere.”
Mr Butcher has increased staff wages by 10 per cent and offered "golden hellos" amounting to £500 for care assistants, and £1,000 to £1,500 for nurses as joining bonuses. However, he said “it’s had no effect at all”.
Call for relaxation of immigration rules
The National Care Association has also urged the Home Office to relax immigration rules for care providers and add all staff to the Shortage Occupation List.
Currently, more qualified care workers have been put on the list, but junior staff have not, meaning they are unlikely to gain entry to the UK under the new points-based immigration system.
“We are definitely one of the ones that should be on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL),” said Nadra Ahmed, chairman of the body for small and medium-sized care providers. The Home Office adding the entire sector to the SOL would make it easier for providers to fill vacancies with overseas workers."
It has previously been estimated that the mandatory vaccination policy will result in about 40,000 care home staff – seven per cent – either quitting or being sacked, costing the embattled sector £100 million to replace.
Response of the Government
A Government spokesperson said: “It is right that employers focus on domestic job seekers first, providing training needed to take up roles in social care and the rewarding packages these workers deserve, rather than turning to immigration as an alternative to this – this has been advised by the Independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).
“As recommended by the MAC, we added senior care workers to the Shortage Occupation List in April this year and have commissioned them to review the impact of ending free movement on the adult social care sector.
“We know from speaking with the sector that the majority of care staff are in favour of the vaccination policy and we continue to work to encourage adult social care and care home staff to get vaccinated in local areas where uptake is lower so that care homes are able to comply with the new regulations which come into force in November.”
The Governments vaccination policy is driving providers of social care to seek new avenues of recruitment for social care workers. The recruitment of foreign workers may help to plug the gap, but it is not a long term solution to the problem. Offering more money and a career structure will pay dividends going forward, but for the present, the sector needs the support of the government and some relaxation in the immigration rules.
Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy