With the deadline looming for all care home workers to be fully vaccinated, providers are experiencing increased burdens on them, both financially and legally, in order to keep their services running in line with the law and regulations.
Staffing Situation Currently
Currently the care industry is seeing vacancy rates increase rapidly – nearly doubling from April (6%) to September (10%) 2021. Rates were highest for home care services (11.3%) and registered nurses (over 13%), with London seeing the highest rates at 11% and the North West with the lowest at 6.5%.
Further, with the hospitality and retail sector offering better pay for better hours it is hard to convince workers to continue working at such a strenuous job. The mandatory vaccination compounds these issues by taking away what some perceive as a basic human rights choice. What this means is that the staffing situation in the social care sector is unlikely to get any better any time soon.
What Government Has Said
The government recently announced that sector will be receiving £162.5 million for workforce retention and recruitment on top of the £4.5 billion levy, which includes £500 million for staff retention and training. However, these funds will only be available until March 2022 and amount to about £100 per staff member.
Cathie Williams, chief executive of ADASS, noted that what the industry really needs is “an additional £1.5bn to stabilise the supply of care and support, including the essential workforce, and £1.5bn to support unpaid carers”, making the £162.5 million grant a mere drop in the ocean.
While this injection of more money was intended to do some good, as with most of the recent promises by the government to give the sector more money, it will do little more than offset the extra costs incurred as a result of the mandated vaccine, increased minimum wage and inflation.
Impact on Providers
The deadline for all care home workers to be fully vaccinated is 11 November 2021. SAGE has stated that vaccine rates of 80% in staff and 90% in residents are needed for the minimum level of protection against COVID outbreaks. Staff who are not vaccinated will be unable to enter the services in order to work or provide care to residents. This will also affect healthcare workers, volunteers, tradespeople, and CQC inspectors. Effectively the vaccine will act as a gatekeeper for who can enter the services in order to work in any capacity, not just providing care. It also appears that making vaccinations mandatory has had little effect on uptake, with only 30,000 workers coming forward for their first jab since July when the announcement of the new legislation was made and data suggesting that 10% of workers still haven’t yet had their second jab.
Many providers believe that this mandate will act as an inhibitor to recruiting and retaining much needed care staff. The absence of these workers will be felt by the sector. Surveys have revealed that nearly75% staff believe that mandatory vaccine will be a catalyst for further deterioration of staffing pressures. In London alone 21% or workers are not fully vaccinated and we are only 10 days away from the deadline. Additionally, only 65% of care homes in England met the recommended threshold by SAGE and in London that proportion was only 44%. The staff themselves feel that they are being forced to quit the jobs they love. To them, it is unfair that visitors and residents aren’t mandated to get a vaccine even though the primary reason is to protect the vulnerable living at the homes. They also feel it is a basic human rights choice being taken away from them. However the main concern seems to be long term side effects.
Further, by impacting beyond just internal staff, this could be detrimental to the overall financial viability of a home having to perhaps pay higher fees in order to have external healthcare professionals come in to assess residents, hire out tradespeople or anything else required to keep the service running. Effectively, with staff having general negative feelings towards mandatory vaccination and increased workforce competition the government will need to (1) reconsider the mandatory vaccine and timelines or (2) find a way to give the sector greater financial assistance.
Providers will need to be astute to their recruitment and hiring processes in light of this. They will also need to be hypervigilant when it comes to IPC and visitor policies to ensure that they are not breaking the law. While the extra money injected is intended to help with extra costs in recruitment, retention, and staff training that might be associated with the mandated vaccine, it will do little to actually meet the financial needs of services now, let alone in a sustainable way.
Ridouts is hosting an online webinar which will discuss the issues around regulatory compliance and mandatory vaccines on 11 November 2021. Sign up HERE.