Government urged to apologise to sacked care home staff after mandatory vaccine U-turn

A care sector boss has said the Government must apologise to care home workers who lost their jobs, following its announcement that it plans to scrap the mandatory vaccine requirement for frontline health and care staff.

Vic Rayner, chief executive of the National Care Forum (NCF), said care homes have been the “unwitting guinea pigs” of the policy and the impact on providers and staff “must not be swept under the carpet”.

Mandatory vaccination for care home staff in England came into force last November.

At the time of the deadline, figures from NHS England showed that at least 42,900 care home staff were not recorded as fully vaccinated.

On Monday, the Government announced its plans to abandon the requirement for health and social care staff, pending a consultation.

Frontline NHS workers and wider social care staff in registered settings had needed to get their first dose by Thursday in order to be double jabbed by April 1.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the Government “makes no apology” for the initial policy but added it is right to review the measure because the Delta variant of Covid-19 has been replaced by the less severe Omicron, and there is greater population protection.

Mr Javid acknowledged that there will always be some who will walk away from their jobs rather than get vaccinated, adding: “We have to consider the impact on the workforce in NHS and social care settings, especially at a time when we already have a shortage of workers and near full employment across the economy.”

Ms Rayner (pictured) said: “The Government must apologise to the social care staff who have lost their jobs and to the people receiving care and support who have had to watch relationships they cherish being severed abruptly as a direct result of this policy, and to the social care providers who have invested significant time, energy and resources into implementing a chaotic policy that is now considered obsolete.”

It comes as Niccii Gillett, a care home manager who lost a sixth of her staff due to the mandate, said she strongly agrees that the Government should apologise.

Ms Gillett, manager of Elmfield House Residential Home in Woking, Surrey, said there were “a lot of tears” when six of her 36 employees left, and that three months on residents still ask about how they are doing.

The 37-year-old told the PA news agency: “I do feel that the decision was a mistake, and I do think the Government should apologise – it doesn’t change anything but it just acknowledges the stress that it’s caused to a number of people, probably every care home in the country, to huge thousands and thousands of care workers. I think an apology is the least that can be done.

“And in health and social care we talk a lot about reflection, learning from mistakes, and if we’re expected to do that when we make mistakes, then I do strongly feel the Government should issue an apology, and reflect on the reasons behind it, and hopefully going forward not make such rash decisions again.”

Ms Gillett previously told PA about the “heartbreaking” resignation letters she had received from employees who did not want to leave the business.

She has spoken to one former staff member, now working in hospitality, who asked what guarantees there are that the mandate will not return.

Mr Javid, when announcing the policy change, said it would be “only responsible” to review the policy in future if there was a dramatic change in the virus.

She continued: “You can’t just ask these staff to come back – they’ve found other jobs.

“Also I think there would be an element of mistrust. If they do come back to the care profession, how do you know it’s not going to be mandated again next winter or in two, three years’ time?

“I think that’s the worry – now that it’s been done once, will it stay how it is or will new legislation come in time that impact their ability to work?”

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said the Government has treated social care staff “appallingly” and apologising is “the very least the Government can do”.

She said: “The Government must single-handedly take the blame for aggravating the staffing crisis and pushing care homes to the brink.

“It’s simply not good enough for the Health Secretary to say sacked workers can return to care homes if they like.

“Thousands of dedicated and experienced staff have been lost to the sector. Most will never return because they have found less stressful, better paid work.”

Unite said its reps will be working “day and night” to help members understand where they stand.

National officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “We demand any worker who has lost their job, as a result of this bungled policy, gets their job back and receives compensation without recourse to an employment tribunal.”

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