Around 40,000 care home jobs at risk over mandatory jabs, says Government’s own ‘best’ estimate

Around 40,000 care home staff risk being lost as a result of introducing compulsory Covid-19 vaccinations in England and could cost the industry £100 million to replace, according to the Government’s own “best” estimate.

The number represents 7% of the profession’s 570,000-strong workforce and is the “midpoint” between the upper and lower estimates of 70,000 (12%) and 17,000 (3%) respectively.

From the autumn, anyone working in a Care Quality Commission-registered care home in England must have two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine unless they have a medical exemption, under regulations already backed by MPs despite a Tory revolt.

The threatened impact of the move emerged as the House of Lords inflicted a defeat on the Government to register concern about the way the measure is being brought in, with one peer accusing the Department of Health and Social Care of “lying”.

The upper chamber backed by 221 votes to 211, majority 10, a so-called regret motion criticising the lack of information provided about the controversial policy, including the publication of a full impact assessment.

Following a backlash in Parliament, the department had produced an interim “impact statement”, but this did little to satisfy peers given the significance of the step and the implications for already-stretched staffing levels.

On the proportion of staff who may refuse to be vaccinated by the end of the 16-week grace period, the statement said: “Based on estimates of between 12% and 3%… we judge that a midpoint of 7% represents our best possible single estimate.”

It added: “This implies 40,000 current members of the workforce (out of around 570,000 working in CQC-registered care homes) may choose not to take up the vaccine before the end of the grace period.”

The statement put cost of replacing staff not meeting the vaccination requirement at £2,500 each, which based on Government estimates “indicates a one-off cost to care home providers of £100 million”.

On the loss of workers it said: “This may place a temporary increased strain on those workers already vaccinated, until replacement workers are recruited.

“There is also an unquantified risk that some care homes who have higher levels of vaccine hesitancy amongst staff will find it more difficult or costly to replace workers.”

Introducing the regulations, health minister Lord Bethell said: “We did not take lightly the decision to introduce this legislation. However, the risks that this winter will undoubtedly pose to the most vulnerable in our society make clear the choice that we must make, to do everything in our power to protect them.”

Conservative former health secretary Lord Lansley said: “It is a step we should take only in a health emergency.”

Tory peer Baroness Noakes said: “We have become inured to the cavalier way in which the Department of Health and Social Care uses secondary legislation to interfere with citizens’ lives but this instrument reaches a new low.

“For the first time since the Victorian era, vaccination will be mandated by law. I believe that it is wholly inappropriate to use unamendable secondary legislation to cross that line.”

While the department normally hid “behind the small print” in avoiding publishing impact assessments, in the absence of this she said it had “resorted to – there is no easy way to say this -lying” about producing a comprehensive document.

Dismissing the impact statement as a “flimsy document”, she said its publication after the Commons had considered the legislation “does nothing to contribute to parliamentary scrutiny”.

Fellow Conservative peer Baroness Foster of Oxton said: “I am a great supporter of the vaccines but I will not support coercion or anyone being forced to have it to keep their job or feed their family. This debate is now moving away from public health and into the realms of state control.”

Former Brexit Party MEP and non-affiliated peer Baroness fox of Buckley said: “This legislation is a blunt instrument that does not take into account any nuance at all.”

Labour frontbencher Baroness Wheeler pointed out the regulations, also known as a statutory instrument (SI), were not a temporary, pandemic-restricted measure but permanent legislation.

She said: “Overall, this SI remains an incoherent, muddled and confused piece of legislation and further last-minute information and reassurances from the Government have not made it any clearer or dealt with the key issues that need to be addressed.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2021, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) PA.