Coronavirus in Hampshire: Care home bosses racing against time to get staff vaccinated before deadline

CARE home bosses are racing against time to get their staff vaccinated against Covid-19 before a looming deadline.

By Maria Zaccaro & David George
Tuesday, 14th September 2021, 2:11 pm
Alison Lang, manager, at Cosham Court Nursing Home. Picture: Sarah Standing (101220-9578)
Alison Lang, manager, at Cosham Court Nursing Home. Picture: Sarah Standing (101220-9578)

But union chiefs representing frontline workers said forcing people to get the jab is 'wrong'.

Union bosses have called on the government to immediately scrap the 'no jab, no job rule' amid fears that it would be 'disastrous' for the care sector.

It comes as care home workers have until September 16 to get their first dose as all care home staff in England will be legally required to be double-jabbed by November 11.

Liz Fairhurst, executive member for adult social care. Picture: Sarah Standing (151925-9715)

Care home staff who choose not to be fully vaccinated will either be redeployed into roles outside of the care home or be at risk of dismissal.

The government said it has put in place a range of measures to support providers recruit and retain staff.

Not all staff are vaccinated

But concerns have been raised as dozens of care home staff across Hampshire are still unvaccinated.

Portsmouth has seen around 280 of its 300-strong staff double vaccinated at council-run homes. The city council said about 10 have only had one jab - leaving around the same number not yet vaccinated at all.

Meanwhile, Hampshire County Council said 'more than 90 per cent' of care home staff in its area are fully vaccinated.

Both councils did not provide a further breakdown when asked.

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Split over calls for mandatory care home staff vaccines in Portsmouth

In Southampton 209 care home workers are yet to receive the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the latest figures released last week.

‘Government sleepwalking into disaster’

But Hampshire Unison said the mandatory move could result in a 'disaster' for vulnerable residents.

Callum Williamson, branch secretary, said: ‘The government is sleepwalking into disaster. Care is already a broken and underfunded sector that cannot afford to lose any more staff.'

He said that across the UK there are more than 110,000 vacancies in the sector.

Mr Williamson added: 'The government’s own projection is for up to 70,000 to leave over forced vaccinations. This would be a disaster for vulnerable Hampshire residents who rely on these services.

'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.”

He said that being vaccinated remains 'the best way for staff to protect themselves and the people they care for'.

'But forcing people to get the jab is absolutely the wrong approach. Persuasion is more effective than coercion,' he added.

Mandatory jab rule ‘risks good workers leaving’

Concerns have also been raised by the Hampshire Care Association.

The group - which supports care providers across the county - mandating vaccination 'risks good workers leaving the sector'.

In a statement the group added: 'Aside from the principle of mandating vaccinations, we have significant concerns about how the government has gone about implementing the regulations.

'There has been no support with the cost of recruiting and training replacement staff and we are still waiting for the official guidance on medical exemptions, and those who have been vaccinated overseas.

'The resulting uncertainty is placing additional pressure on our member providers, and causing distress for their staff and for those who live in our homes. We believe that the care workforce needs to be treated with the same level of respect and appreciation as NHS workers.'

Portsmouth please about Covid jab take up

Portsmouth City Council’s cabinet member for health, wellbeing and social care, Cllr Jason Fazackarley, said he was 'really pleased' with the take-up of vaccinations among care home staff.

He said: 'Our managers have done a great job of talking staff through any concerns they may have and we are working closely with the few remaining to urge them to take up the offer of vaccination in time for the new policy coming into force on 11 November.'

But the city council is yet to reveal how many people working in Portsmouth care homes run by the private and voluntary sector are yet to be vaccinated.

Cllr Fazackarley added: 'Vaccination against Covid-19 is the best way to keep yourself and those around you safe from the effects of the virus, and we would urge anyone who has not yet come forward for their vaccination to do so now.'

Roger Batterbury, chairman of Healthwatch Portsmouth, also encouraged all staff working in care homes to get vaccinated.

He said: 'We hope that by following the government’s guidance - that all staff working in care homes and all those visiting the care homes must be vaccinated from November 11 - will help care homes have the best protection against the virus and continue to provide great support for the people they care for.'

‘All our staff will take the vaccine’

Alison Lang, manager of Cosham Court Nursing Home, said: 'By the November 11 deadline all our staff will be fully vaccinated - there’s only a couple of people still waiting for their vaccine.

'We are looking after vulnerable people so we have a moral obligation to be vaccinated. The government has done the right thing by making it compulsory for care home staff.

'There is the argument that it takes away your freedom of choice and we’ve had discussions about that, but everybody here realises just how important the Covid-19 vaccine is.'

Cllr Liz Fairhurst, the county council’s executive lead member for adult services and public health, said she understood some people were hesitant.

She said: 'We appreciate that for some individuals, this may not be an easy decision.

'But to provide the very best protection for the frail, elderly and the many vulnerable younger adults in care accommodation across the county, as well as our vital care workforce - for those working in care homes and other staff regularly visiting homes in the course of their work, having the vaccine is an important consideration and now not optional.'

A spokeswoman for GMB said the union has called for all care workers to have paid time off with easy access to the vaccine.

The spokeswoman added: ‘We recognised that for many people taking time off work unpaid with any potential side effects was going to prevent people from having the vaccine.

‘The decision to force vaccination on the sector has been short sighted and we are now seeing many good dedicated employees leave the sector. Any GMB member who cannot take the vaccine should contact the union for advice.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘As part of the £5.4 billion announced this week to reform social care we are providing at least £500 million to support the development and wellbeing of the care workforce, who have worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic.

‘We are working with local authorities and providers to ensure we have the right number of staff with the skills to deliver high quality care to meet increasing demands. This includes running regular national recruitment campaigns and providing councils with access to over £1 billion of additional funding for social care in 2021-22.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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