The date has now passed for care workers to get vaccinated before being forced out in November. That is if the Government goes ahead with its policy that staff will only be allowed to work in care homes if they have received 2 jabs.
Care home providers are being placed in a desperate situation. On the one hand experiencing great difficulty in recruiting staff while at the same time being forced to make staff redundant.
What has led to the current situation?
Social care providers have long held on to the belief that those staff who refused to take up the offer of vaccination could be persuaded through counselling staff with the aim of relieving their fears of vaccination and explaining the importance of risk in the duty of care.
Despite the best efforts of managers, staff have now had more than 9 months to make up their minds. The Government have obviously come to the conclusion that some staff are adamant that they will not receive the vaccine and have decided to make it mandatory.
More than one in six care staff in England have yet to receive two doses of Covid vaccine leaving 76,000 eligible staff at risk of being forced to quit after 9th November when vaccination against the virus will become a condition of employment.
We all know that the social care sector has always had great difficulty in recruiting staff. One of the main reasons being the low pay offered by the sector. The government is aware that the larger care home providers are still making profits and see it as up to them to raise the wages of staff. This is a very narrow view however, and fails to take into account the situation of smaller providers who cannot attract private residents, and rely on the local authority referrals where commissioners have limited funds. The end result is they are not in a position to pay higher wages, unable to recruit staff and many are having to close.
What is the solution?
It is unlikely that the government will go back on its decision that all care home staff must be vaccinated. What is needed is some interim action that will give care homes some time to recruit the numbers of staff they require to replace those who will leave the sector.
Care home leaders are urging the government to lift restrictions on low-paid foreign workers entering the UK to help solve the staffing crisis.
Care England, which represents the largest private care home chains, said ministers should cut the qualifying salary level for overseas recruitment of social care staff from £25,600 and add all care workers to the shortage occupation list used to grant visas. Currently the list includes only care managers and senior care staff rather than rank and file, even though some operators are facing such extensive shortages that they are having to turn down care requests.
“Quite simply care providers are at breaking point,” said Prof Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England. “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.”
The government has already asked the migration advisory committee to assess the impact on adult social care of ending freedom of movement after Brexit, but it is not due to report back until April 2022.
Care England has also asked the health and social care secretary, Sajid Javid, to waive the immigration skills charge for care workers and fast-track visas under sponsorship licences.
Care operators have reported a fall in the number of foreign workers seeking jobs and an increase in the numbers leaving to return home. The majority of the adult social care workforce is British, but about 113,000 jobs were occupied by EU nationals and 134,000 jobs by people from other countries.
Care home providers must feel that they are being asked to provide services with both hands tied behind their backs. They are dealing with a recalcitrant Government who seem hell bent on bringing care homes to their knees before taking action. It was inevitable that the Government would act on mandatory vaccinations given the amount of time staff have had to consider it. But it is short sited to be focusing upon larger providers who make profits to raise wages, when smaller scale services are struggling to survive on the money received from local authorities.
The Government should see sense and change the migration rules. It must cut the qualifying salary level for overseas recruitment of social care staff from £25,600 and add all care workers to the shortage occupation list used to grant visas. If it doesn’t, one can see the predicament of care homes unable to deal with another round of Covid, and unable to take patients who are blocking beds in hospitals.
Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy