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Social care in England set to suffer as Covid jab deadline for workers looms

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The quality of social care in England will suffer and some homes might have to close as an estimated 32,000 workers in the sector are set to miss Thursday’s deadline to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, industry leaders have warned.

Mike Padgham, chair of the Independent Care Group, which represents care home operators, said: “If care homes do not have enough staff, in the worst-case scenario the facility would have to reduce the number of residents and if it wasn’t able to deliver care properly, would have to close entirely.

“This is the reality faced by homes up and down the country.” 

The government announced in June that, following a six-month consultation, all care home workers in England would need to be fully vaccinated by November 11 in order to keep their jobs. Following a second consultation, health secretary Sajid Javid announced on Tuesday that Covid-19 jabs will also be compulsory for frontline NHS staff in England from April 2022.

Javid said on Tuesday that about 32,000 care sector workers would not be jabbed by the deadline. The sector is already facing a shortage of 105,000 workers, according to The Department of Health and Social Care. It currently has a paid workforce of 1.5m people.

Adam Purnell, director of social care at the Institute of Health and Social Care Management, urged the government to push the care jab deadline to April to align with the NHS, arguing that the social care sector had been treated like a “guinea pig”. 

The “inevitable” loss of thousands of workers will see some providers having to operate at “unsafe staffing levels”, he said, increasing the risk of accidents.

Short-staffed care homes will also be unable to admit as many patients from hospitals, increasing pressure on the NHS, Purnell warned.

“If care homes are struggling with staff numbers, the most vulnerable people in our community won’t be able to leave the hospital because there won’t be anywhere for them to go”, he added.

Despite the concerns, Javid defended the policy on Wednesday.

He told the BBC that while the policy would prove “challenging” for the sector, the government had a “duty” to protect society’s most vulnerable.

Steve Scown, chief executive of Dimensions, the UK’s largest not-for-profit provider of support for working-age adults with learning disabilities and autism, claimed Javid had “personally put the wellbeing of many thousands of disabled people at risk” by enforcing mandatory vaccination.

Already “many good colleagues” had left, Scown said. “We will be forced to dismiss more on Friday when the first set of new regulations come into force, and now anticipate yet more dismissals in April,” he said.

The exodus of staff prompted by the “no jab, no job” policy comes amid a tight jobs market, with competition for employees from restaurants, supermarkets and other industries. Lucy Craig, managing director at Craig Healthcare, an organisation that owns and manages three residential and dementia care homes in the North East, told the FT that three staff members had left as a result of the rule.

One had taken a job at a branch of the Subway’s sandwich chain, she added.

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