Home care workforce in England down more than 17,000 since mandatory jab consultation

The number of home care staff in England has dropped by more than 17,000 since the Government launched its consultation on mandatory coronavirus vaccination, figures suggest.

There were 406,365 domiciliary care staff in registered settings reported by councils and providers as being in post in the week ending January 30, latest NHS England vaccination figures show.

Analysis by the PA news agency shows this is down 17,664 staff from the week ending September 12, when 424,029 workers were recorded.

There will be other types of home care workers, such as agency staff, that are not captured in the data.

The Government announced that two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine would be mandatory for care home staff in June, following a public consultation.

It launched another consultation – into extending the mandate to frontline NHS and wider social care staff in registered settings – on September 9.

Before this point, the figures show the number of domiciliary care staff had roughly hovered around 424,000-425,000 for several months.

Between the week the consultation was launched and the following week, there were 4,275 fewer domiciliary care workers in post.

Since then, the weekly totals have fallen for every week except for four, where they rose slightly.

There are likely to be multiple reasons for the overall fall in staffing numbers, with social care staff said to be experiencing pandemic burnout, exacerbated by the recent spread of Omicron, and struggles with recruitment and retainment as other sectors prove more attractive, on top of mandatory vaccination concerns.

The Government has provided extra funding, launched a campaign to improve recruitment and retention, and expanded the Health and Care Worker visa scheme in a bid to increase the social care workforce.

Earlier this week, Sajid Javid announced plans to abandon the mandatory vaccine requirement, pending a consultation, days before the deadline for staff to get their first doses in time to be double jabbed by April 1.

The Health Secretary said it was right to review the measure because the Delta variant of Covid-19 has been replaced by the less severe Omicron, and there is now greater population protection.

He 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.”

The weekly NHS figures show that 88.3% of domiciliary care staff had received a first dose as of January 30.

This suggests that 47,444 remain unvaccinated or their vaccination status has not been recorded.

Some 4.7% of staff at NHS trusts in England had not had a first dose of Covid-19 vaccine as of January 30 – the equivalent of 72,105 people.

This is down from 5.7% on January 2.

Take-up accelerated slightly last month, having previously fallen from 10.6% in mid-June 2021 to 8.0% in mid-September and 6.3% in mid-December.

Dr Jane Townson, chief executive of the Homecare Association, said recent surveys show three-quarters of members said the mandate would make recruitment harder, and more than one in 10 said staff were leaving as a result of the policy.

She said: “We warned the Government from the outset that the risk of losing vital home care staff vastly outweighed the mitigated risk of infection from Covid-19, particularly as other infection prevention and control measures are routinely used, including PPE and asymptomatic testing of homecare workers.

“The Government chose repeatedly to ignore our advice.

“Skills for Care monthly monitoring data show that the vacancy rate in home care has continued to rise and at the end of December 2021 was 12.6%, the highest it has ever been.”

Dr Townson said many factors affect the home care workforce, including a feeling of not being adequately recognised, zero hours contracts and rationing of wages, including in some instances being paid less than the minimum wage.

She added that piling on additional restrictions, such as the vaccine mandate, has been the “last straw” for workers who “feel they are being punished by the Government”.

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