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Vaccine ultimatum shows Government’s misunderstanding of social care

The Government’s rather heavy-handed imposition of compulsory vaccine on care workers has demonstrated yet again its total lack of understanding and respect for the social care sector.

Care providers took a collective, sharp intake of breath when the Government last week announced that being fully vaccinated against Covid-19 was to be made a condition of employment from October.

Many providers are struggling to keep their organisations afloat after the devastating rigours of the pandemic and here was the Government kicking them when they are down once again. Huge costs associated with the pandemic and a sluggish recovery of occupancy levels is leaving many in dire financial difficulty. This against a backdrop of decades of neglect. Some providers have closed and more will follow.

There are around 120,000 vacancies in the care sector and providers are struggling to fill their shifts. How on earth are we to persuade people to join this rewarding and caring profession if there is a mandatory injection as part of your induction? At the very least, it is an additional barrier the sector could do without.

And there are also some questions of unfairness attached to this rather draconian measure. After minimal consultation, the Government has imposed mandatory vaccinations upon social care workers. It is now beginning consultation with the NHS before taking a decision. Would it not have been fairer to consult all carers, NHS and social care together, and then, if necessary impose the vaccine if the consultation came out in favour? It feels like they had made their minds up about social care in advance and knew that, politically, opposition would be minimal because social care is not a particularly vociferous or obstreperous opponent.

Where is the sense of fairness and “all in this together” in that?

Are we really going to reward these amazing workers for all their bravery and sacrifice with the threat of losing their job or being ‘redeployed’?

And if the dangers posed to our most vulnerable are so great that those working with them must be vaccinated, why does that not apply to essential care givers who, as I write this, do not have to be vaccinated to get up close and personal with people on a daily basis?

The same question could be asked of relatives. Yes, they have to take tests before they visit but they do not have to be vaccinated.

Of course I understand why the Government has taken this decision. The vaccine is vital and it is playing a key role in the country overcoming Covid-19. And with more than 30,000 people dying in care and nursing homes from Covid-19, it is understandable that the Government might think this measure a worthwhile one.

But those 30,000 did not die because 100% of those caring for them were not vaccinated. Sadly, they died because, amongst many reasons, people were discharged into care and nursing home without being tested and because Covid-19 got into homes through many different ways. They died because social care was forgotten at the outset of the pandemic.

Personally I’m in favour of the vaccine and the way it is helping us return to normality.

But for me, in a free country, the idea of being forced to have a vaccination or face losing your job or being redeployed does not sit well. As it stands, more and more people are getting vaccinated and given a little more time and greater efforts at persuasion, the sector may well have got to 100% or very near, without the need for the threats and warnings. Instead, the Government has decided to use the blunt instrument of legislation to force care workers to be vaccinated.

What a shame it cannot be as decisive when it comes to properly understanding the social care sector and giving it the long-promised reform it is crying out for. That reform should be mandatory, with a deadline, or they should lose their jobs!