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Jabs to be made compulsory for care home staff

Written by: Emma Lunn
Workers in care homes will need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or face losing their jobs, according to government sources.

The move has been heavily criticised by unions representing care home workers with one trade body warning that more than a third of carers would consider leaving their jobs if vaccines were mandated.

The government launched a consultation about making jabs compulsory for people working in care homes in April. It said the move would help to protect older people living in care homes, who are among the most vulnerable to Covid-19.

It’s now poised to announce the results of the consultation with government sources suggesting the rule change would go ahead. Ministers are also considering extending the policy to all NHS staff, a suggestion which has previously been criticised by groups representing nurses and doctors.

GMB union, which represents thousands of care home workers, said the plans could lead to a staff exodus. The union said that the uptake of vaccinations has been on the increase in social care and the government should be doing more to address vaccine hesitancy instead of forcing vaccines on workers.

Rachel Harrison, GMB national officer, said: “Carers have been at the forefront of this pandemic, risking their lives to keep our loved ones safe, often enduring almost Victorian working standards in the process.

“The government could do a lot of help them; address their pay terms and conditions, increasing the rate of and access to contractual sick pay, banning zero hours and ensuring more mobile NHS vaccination teams so those working night shifts can get the jab.

“Instead, ministers are ploughing ahead with plans to strongarm care workers into taking the vaccine without taking seriously the massive blocks these workers still face in getting jabbed.

“This looks like another potential avoidable mess. We’ve told ministers that more than a third of our members in social care would consider packing their jobs in if vaccines were mandated. They can’t now say they weren’t warned.”

Another union, Unite, says it wants to see care home staff encouraged, but not mandated, to get the Covid jab.

Gail Cartmail, Unite assistant general secretary, said: “Unite strongly opposes forcing any health and social care workers to have a vaccine or risk sacrificing their job. “Encouragement, not compulsion is the advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO) for the very good reason that such an approach is shown to work.

“A checklist of reasons behind the shocking level of infection in care homes points to a stack of government failures. It is invidious that social care staff should be singled out in this fashion – it smacks of the government trying to divert attention from its massive failure at the beginning of the pandemic to protect elderly residents from coronavirus.

“The social care sector is in urgent need of ‘root and branch’ reform – there needs to be a national care service with the same status as the NHS where staff are paid fairly. NHS and social care workers need and deserve respect from our government, a decent pay rise and a drastic reduction in vacancies that are placing an immense strain on the system.”

Care home group Barchester Healthcare has already said it will not take on new staff who refuse to have the Covid-19 injection on non-medical grounds. However, it hasn’t gone as far as firing existing staff who refuse to be vaccinated.

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