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Social care staffing crisis fear as vaccination rules for workers toughened

Published by Professional Social work magazine, 9 November, 2021

Fears are mounting of a social care staffing crisis this winter as the government toughens up its stance on vaccinations for health and social care workers.

Health secretary Sajid Javid confirmed that all 1.4 million NHS staff in England must be vaccinated by next spring or risk losing their jobs.

From this Thursday, 11 November, anyone working or entering a care home in a professional capacity in England will need to show proof of vaccination.

Unison has said as many as 70,000 care home workers will not be fully vaccinated in time.

Latest figures showing a 7.2 per cent vacancy rate in the care sector equal to 112,000 empty posts before the pandemic even hit.

In an area of work characterised by low pay, the union has warned of “catastrophic shortages” in staff. Care home providers say they fear the “most acute recruitment and retention crisis” in history.

Plans to extend mandatory jabs against Covid to all workers having face-to-face patient contact across health and care settings will impact on social workers and social care staff.

The British Association of Social Workers’ advice and representation service says it has received a significant number of calls from concerned workers not wanting to be vaccinated.

Lien Watts, head of the service, said: “I have told the team to brace themselves – this is going to be a big thing and we are going to get a lot of calls and cases coming our way.”

One practitioner not getting jabbed for health reasons, told PSW: “My work involves no face-to-face contact, but should this change I will not be able to continue with my career as I am not prepared to risk damaging my health further.”

Employers have a duty to consider alternative ways for non-vaccinated workers to fulfil their duties, including redeployment.

Watts added: “Provided they show they have considered this, employers are covered. But there is a real risk that people could lose their jobs and amongst that will be a number of social workers.

“We will represent eligible people who are going through these challenges to make sure everything is done properly. But the bottom line is we can’t guarantee they won’t be sacked.”

Advances in virtual social work could be one way of helping non-vaccinated staff continue with their duties. Regular testing is another.

One social worker said: “I know of two colleagues who have not taken the vaccine and they are being supported to continue working and seeing families. They do face-to-face visits and agreed to test three times a week.”