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Following a recent UK Government announcement that has confirmed all people working in care homes will need to have both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, it has sparked mixed responses from various leading care organisations as well as mobility and access companies.

The legislation means from October – subject to Parliamentary approval and a subsequent 16-week grace period – anyone working in a CQC-registered care home in England for residents requiring nursing or personal care must have two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, unless they have a medical exemption.

As well as health and care professionals working in care homes, it also applies to those coming into care homes to carry out work, such as individuals installing stairlifts or those supplying moving & handling equipment.

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While certain organisations have welcomed this announcement and believe it is vital in order to protect vulnerable residents and a duty of care, others have expressed their hesitancy and said it might lead to people feeling as though they need to leave their jobs, ultimately leading to staff shortages in the care sector.

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) feels that a more fair and flexible approach to the vaccination requirement will ensure people stay in their jobs and avoid shortages.

In response the announcement, an ADASS spokesperson said: “ADASS has argued strongly for vaccination of care workers and family carers and has worked relentlessly to encourage take-up. However, we recognise there is deep hesitancy on the part of some individuals and among some communities, especially in areas where up to 60% of care staff are from BAME communities.

“We have concerns that making vaccination compulsory for care home workers will drive skilled and valued people out of jobs that they love for better pay in retail and hospitality. There were already more than 100,000 job vacancies in adult social care in England before the pandemic.

“We urge the government to listen to arguments for a fair and flexible approach to any vaccination requirement. We call also as a matter of utmost urgency for funding to improve significantly the pay of social care workers who are expected to comply with these special conditions.”

Similarly, The Care Workers’ Charity believes that this new law will lead to people feeling discriminated against and leaving the care sector. This, the charity underlines, will lead to “devastating” staff shortages and alienate the social care workforce.

Karolina Gerlich, CEO of The Care Workers’ Charity, commented: ““We cannot discriminate against one part of the social care and health workforce- with a policy such as this it should either be compulsory for all or none, particularly with the set reasoning behind it which would be to protect people vulnerable to the virus. We are worried that this kind of compulsory vaccination will cause staff shortages if people feel discriminated against and want to leave the sector. This move will undoubtedly lead to severe and devastating staff shortages, as many choose to leave the sector- with care staff feeling that their views are not being respected or heard.

“The government has treated the social care workforce as unskilled and unimportant; this lack of value was shown by the lack of PPE and testing provision early in the pandemic, and continues to be demonstrated through chronic underfunding. To add to this, the government immigration policy designated social care workers as low skilled. As a Charity, we believe that the DHSC cannot put professional requirements (such as compulsory vaccines) on care staff when they are not treated as valued professionals.

“In sum, compulsory vaccinations will only serve the further alienate our wonderful social care workforce that, despite their incredible work, feel side-lined, undervalued and ignored.”

The Local Government Association (LGA) feels that care providers will find the COVID-19 vaccination requirement challenging and that further support should be given to the care workforce from the UK Government.

Cllr David Fothergill, Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, outlined: “This is a highly sensitive and complex issue, which reflects the wide range of views from across social care and it remains absolutely vital that we all continue current efforts to encourage voluntary take-up of the vaccine.

“Councils are already working very closely with local health and care partners to remove existing barriers to take-up, such as providing greater access and tailoring information to address specific concerns, which may well help reach necessary levels of vaccination on a voluntary basis.

“Any targeting of mandatory vaccination should be proportionate and appropriate to specific areas where take-up rates remain lower. It is only right that care workers are treated the same as their NHS counterparts and we are pleased that government has listened to our feedback about extending this to the health workforce, as any suggestion of being singled out could have adverse consequences for recruitment and retention of the care workforce. We will respond to the new consultation once it is published.

“Care providers will find this new requirement challenging. The care workforce should also be supported through other measures, such as through increased pay or improved terms and conditions, which could form part of a long-term, sustainable solution for adult social care.

“We will read the Government’s full response to the original consultation in detail to see if it sufficiently addresses the concerns and comments raised by our members.”

On the flipside, mobility and access leaders have exclusively told AT Today that they are pleased with the decision to make COVID-19 vaccines compulsory for those working in care homes in England, saying that the decision will protect both residents and care home staff.

Graham Collyer, Executive Chairman at Sumed International (UK), a manufacturer of medical equipment and supplies, enthused: “Whereas I appreciate that everyone should have the right to choose whether to have the vaccine or not, people living in care homes should have the right to the best protection available.

“Not only should they be fully vaccinated, they should expect all those working in the care home to have had both doses. If care home workers choose not to have them, alternative work should be explored, but in the absence of alternative work, they should understand that they cannot work in a care home environment.”

Echoing Graham’s thoughts, Neil Davis, Managing Director of Harvest Healthcare, which provides and services beds, pressure care, bathing, and moving and handling equipment to 1,200 care homes nationwide, added: “This is a great initiative from the Government. It is our duty as service and equipment suppliers to the healthcare industry to do our best to protect residents, patients and carers, as well as our own staff.  This legislation gives the clarity and legal back-up we need to get it done.”

Steve Kirman, Director of mobility equipment supplier Kings Lynn Mobility Centre, described the requirement as “common sense” in order to protect vulnerable individuals.

He said: “I completely agree with anyone entering care homes, or for that matter, customers’ homes, should be fully vaccinated against COVID. Surely, it’s just common sense, as with masks and hand gel.”

Graham Billcliffe, Director of mobility equipment supplier Horizon Mobility, believes that all care staff, NHS staff and school staff should be vaccinated as a mandatory requirement.

He observed: “The media, both mainstream and social, are drumming up the scare stories that people are losing their rights, yet we all know the vaccination saves lives.

“The majority are in favour. Just a few are more concerned about ‘their right to choose’, not that they will bring a killer into the midst of the fragile. If they do not want the vaccine then they should not be in the caring sector, as they obviously do not care for others.

“Perhaps the best way to get people to take it would be the carrot, not the stick – get £25 per week for six months. It would not be insignificant to a large number and work out cheaper than hospital care and deaths.”

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