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THE CARE sector in England faces a catastrophic staffing crisis unless the government abandons its “no jab, no job” policy, unions warned today.
As last night’s midnight deadline for the first mandatory Covid vaccinations neared, Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said that some agencies were already unable to provide emergency cover.
And the GMB union said that a last-minute “fudge” giving a 12-week window for staff to self-certify that they are medically exempt from the rule has come too late to stem a mass exodus from the sector.
An existing record shortfall of up to 170,000 workers has already had a severe knock-on effect on the NHS, blocking beds as patients awaiting discharge are unable to secure care.
Some employers warned that care homes would have to close, while others said they faced a choice between breaking the law and attempting to cope without enough staff.
Ministers expect 70,000 more people to be out of their jobs by November 11, when non-exempt workers who have not had both doses will be banned from care homes in England. The ban has not been imposed in Scotland, Wales and the north of Ireland.
While emphasising that everyone who can have the vaccine should do so, Ms McAnea insisted that the government’s “draconian” approach, on top of years of austerity and private-sector profiteering, could leave thousands of vulnerable people without care.
Ms McAnea said: “This move is damaging a sector already on its knees and undermining trust in the vaccine.
“Vaccine-hesitant staff must be offered reassurance and persuasion, not threats and ultimatums.
“Instead of encouraging much-needed recruitment into care, the government is actively driving experienced staff away.”
The last-minute announcement of a 12-week grace period, during which staff can declare themselves exempt without having to provide evidence, was described by the GMB as a “cowardly, incompetent and inhumane” fudge that was too late to avert a mass exodus.
National officer Rachel Harrison said: “GMB has been calling on the government to reverse their appalling decision to force vaccination on social care key workers from the start.
“More than 90 per cent of social care workers have had their first vaccine, yet ministers were pushing ahead despite calls for them to do more to address vaccine hesitancy amongst workers in the sector.“
The government said that temporary self-certification — introduced less than 24 hours before the deadline — would ensure that those with medical exemptions could continue working.
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