Care home leaders have warned of retention and recruitment problems if Covid-19 vaccinations are made mandatory for staff working in care homes with older adult residents in England.
The Department of Health and Social Care announced a five-week consultation on the proposal last week amid concern around coronavirus jab uptake among staff in older adult care homes.
But Mike Padgham, Independent Care Group chair and owner of Saint Cecilia’s Care Services in Yorkshire, told Nursing in Practice that ‘no one should be forced to receive the vaccine’ and warned the requirement could ‘be a barrier to recruitment and retention’ in the already struggling sector.
He added: ‘Where does it stop? If it’s compulsory in care homes, why not make it compulsory on the wards on in the NHS too?’
The Government consultation paper on the change suggested employers could ‘redeploy’ unvaccinated staff to a non-care home setting or end their employment. But Mr Padgham pointed out that providers have ‘extremely limited’ options for redeploying staff who refuse the vaccine.
The document added that the change would apply to all staff – including those providing direct care to those working in other roles, such as cleaners and kitchen staff – working in a home supporting at least one adult over 65 unless they had a medical exemption. This amounts to around 10,000 homes.
The requirements could also be extended to visiting professionals – such as healthcare staff, but even potentially hairdressers and faith leaders – and ‘essential care giver’ family and friends who visit regularly to provide care, it added.
Mr Padgham warned the change could spark legal challenges, which could distract the sector at a time when its ‘focus has to be on fighting the virus’.
A sub-committee paper drafted by the Department of Health and Social Care, leaked to the Telegraph last month, also said lawsuits on human rights grounds could be possible.
Louise Brady, a clinical development lead at the Royal British Legion care homes, argued ‘continuous, clear and positive messaging’ around vaccination is instead needed across social care and echoed fears of ‘massive workforce implications of the decision’.
She also questioned whether ‘the same mandate would apply to staff in acute geriatric wards and rehabilitation community settings who also look after an aged population with high morbidity and mortality rates from Covid-19′.
However, George Coxon, a care home owner based in Devon, agreed with the proposals, adding that they are needed to stop staff who ‘deviate from what would regard as safe and best practice’ working with older adults.
He said: ‘Staff have the choice. But what about the vulnerable frail older people who have no choice and are coming in contact with a person who potentially has a deadly virus? Ultimately, I think it’s putting lives at risk. Our duty is with our residents’.