‘Shambolic’ vaccine rule sees care homes becoming embroiled in disciplinary proceedings, say owners

Care homes are embroiled in disciplinary proceedings over the Government’s “shambolic” mandatory vaccination policy for staff, further adding to the workforce pressures they face, a care group has said.

The National Care Forum (NCF) said a number of its members estimate they will lose about 8% of staff by Thursday – the deadline for staff in England to get both jabs.

The body, which represents not-for-profit care providers, carried out a snapshot survey of members between November 2 and 8.

Some 43 members responded in full, which run about 300 services for more than 11,000 people and employ about 14,000 staff.

Members reported spending an “enormous amount of time” implementing the policy, with almost all holding extra staff briefings and needing additional HR resources.

The survey found that 58% of members are running disciplinary hearings and 40% managing appeals that are related to the requirement.

And 53% said they have spent money on specialist legal advice.

Members said on average 3.5% of their staff have already left as a result of resignation or dismissal, and they estimate a further 4.4% might leave.

The NCF said social care can ill afford such a serious loss of staff given the “enormous” workforce pressures plaguing the sector.

The chief executive, Vic Rayner (pictured), said care homes have been the “unwitting guinea pigs” throughout the rollout of the policy, which one provider branded a “shambles”.

She said: “Since the introduction of this policy we have been vocal about the unnecessary high cost – in terms of human costs, financial costs and the loss in trust and goodwill amongst care staff and their employers as a direct result of this policy.

“Care homes have been the unwitting guinea pigs through the implementation of this policy, and the impact on people must not be swept under the carpet.

“It is vital that the Government learns from this experience and makes changes for the wider rollout of this policy.

“As we face a very difficult winter ahead, lessons must be learnt in how not to introduce a policy that has long term consequences on the very people we need to deliver the care and support many people and communities rely on.”

Care homes told the NCF that the Government had not properly assessed the impact of the policy before imposing it, the rollout and exemption process were “disorganised” and late and the policy was perceived as badly timed and unjust.

One provider said the rollout has been a “shambles” and that the medical exemption process was “late, unclear (and) poorly written”.

Another said: “Our staff are now not only managing a care home, they are expected to be security and medical assessors. We do not have the tools to do this.”

And one said comforting residents who are upset at seeing long-term staff leave is the “worst thing” they have had to do in a 22-year career.

According to a separate survey of members of the Institute of Health and Social Care Management between November 8-10, which received 148 responses, 84% wanted the deadline delayed to spring.

This would bring care home staff in line with the recently announced April 1 deadline for NHS and other social care staff.

Some 60% said they expect to lose between one and five staff at their care home as a result of the policy, while 21% said they will not lose staff and 19% said they expect to lose more than five employees.

The National Care Association said the vaccine is a key part of controlling the virus but an unintended consequence of the mandatory policy will be “no staff, no care”.

Executive chairwoman Nadra Ahmed said: “The NHS will struggle to discharge out of the acute sector into safe environments where people can be supported at a critical time in their lives.

“There is still time to bring the deadline in line with the NHS and support the sector to have a fighting chance to get through the winter months.

“It may avoid the closure of essential beds when we most need them as a nation.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said it has a “responsibility to do everything we can to protect vulnerable people”.

He added: “We consulted and worked closely with the sector to encourage take up of the vaccine ahead of the deadline.

“Since the consultation was announced uptake of the first dose amongst care home staff has risen from 80% to 94%.

“We are working closely with local authorities and care home providers to ensure there will always be enough staff with the right skills to deliver high quality care.”

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