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Does this government understand the meaning of duty of care?

Unless the government relents and makes a u turn, providers of social care are facing their most turbulent week. The government seems intent on enforcing the law. From Thursday 11th November all unvaccinated care home staff will be required to leave their jobs unless alternative forms of employment can be found for them.

How have we arrived at this situation?

Following the catastrophic death rate of residents in care homes where more than 30,000 people died from COVID 19 related deaths. Criticism of government policy has forced the government to take action to prevent it happening again. The cause of so many deaths was the government’s policy to discharge residents with COVID 19 back into care homes increasing the spread of infection.

In addition, it was found that staff moving between care homes was also a contributory factor in the spread of infection. The government determined to do something about it enacted a law enforcing all staff who work in care homes must be vaccinated to prevent the spread of the disease.

Enforcement or encouragement

Providers of social care services have done all they can to encourage their staff through consultation and education to have the vaccination over many months. But for whatever reason there are still a large number of staff who have failed to take up the offer of vaccination therefor putting residents at risk.

The government would argue that they have a duty of care to protect residents. One method of achieving this is to ensure that all care home staff are vaccinated.

Impact on care homes and NHS

It is estimated that as many as 500 care homes will cease to operate because they will have insufficient staff to meet the needs of residents. The government estimates that 40000 staff will be lost from care homes after Thursday’s deadline.

Mike Padgham chairman of the independent care group begs the question “if the loss is as great as forecast where will all these residents go, they cannot go to hospital, nor can they go to their own homes without care”.

This government could be seen as ‘shooting itself in the foot’. On the one hand it will go to any length to protect an overburdened NHS. On the other taking action that will lead to the closure of care homes, thereby preventing discharges of patients from hospitals that could be cared for in care homes.

Duty of care

Not for the first time do the policies of this government in relation to social care seem at odds with one another. As I have said the government can claim that they are acting on their duty of care, by requiring care home staff to be vaccinated to protect the health and wellbeing of residents. However, by insisting on a rigid timescale for care home staff which will effectively result in residents being left homeless or without care which is a relinquishment of their duty and responsibility.

Short term solution

Given that infection rates will rise during the winter months it would be prudent for the government to delay the November 11th deadline until April next year.

Given the way the government normally treats social care providers it will be of no surprise to me if they were to announce a delay on the deadline.

Summary

Does this government understand the meaning of duty of care? I think not. One cannot argue that the vaccination of care home staff will protect residents from COVID-19. But this government never seems to have a plan B. What happens to care homes if mandatory vaccination is not successful as is the case here.

The government in their wisdom have created a great deal of anxiety for providers and because of its insistence on a deadline has driven large numbers of staff away from care homes at a time when they are desperate to recruit them.

I fail to see why care home staff should be treat differently to their NHS colleagues. Why should government policy in relation to vaccination differ when they are both involved in providing care. We are told that the NHS and social care will provide an inclusive service in the future. It is time that this government gives social care the respect that it has earned, and sees it as an important partner of the NHS.

Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy

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