From Thursday, November 11 it became mandatory that all care home workers in England must be double-jabbed.
In Greater Manchester, it means that hundreds of carers and care staff will have lost their jobs.
Leaders say staff shortages will only lead to a return to more ‘bed blocking’, where elderly or vulnerable people cannot be discharged from hospital back into care homes because there isn’t enough capacity.
“It’s a dire industry at the moment,” one manager of a home in Trafford says, dispirited and angry that her pleas to government to push back the vaccine deadline have fallen on deaf ears.
Being forced to choose between having two jabs or leaving their job feels a long way from the spirit of ‘clap for carers’ the prime minister encouraged during the first lockdown, carers say.
‘I won’t be forced’
Donna had been employed in a care home for the last two years until the vaccine requirements came in, working her last shift earlier this week.
She wanted to seek an exemption on medical grounds, but was told she wouldn’t qualify.
“I loved the work, I loved the job, I loved the people and the elderly residents and it was torture to have to actually leave but at the end of the day I am not prepared to be forced to have a vaccine,” the 57-year-old says.
“I felt that if I didn’t get the vaccine I was going to be out of a job and there are thousands of other people in the same position as me doing a job that they love, that they have done for many years and having to leave the profession.
“The one thing that they are not actually taking into consideration is that those care homes are short staffed as it is.”
Donna has spent 20 years of her life working in care, but said the pandemic made the sector ‘very difficult’.
“I worked a lot of hours through the pandemic and this is the thanks I get for it,” she adds.
“The thanks for me putting myself and my family at risk, I couldn’t see my dad for months. It’s a slap in the face.
“The majority of the people you care for are coming to the end of their lives, it makes a difference to somebody’s life and their families to be looked after and cared for to the best of our ability.
“The quality of care is going to diminish and it’s not fair on those elderly people.
“To me it’s the care homes that have borne the brunt of it all the way we’ll continue to have it for a long, long time.”
‘It’s not an option for me’
Lynda had been working as a cook in a Bolton care home, before leaving in September ahead of the legal requirement to have the first vaccine.
She had been one of two staff that left over the new two-jab rules.
Since starting work at the home in April last year, Lynda’s job saw her not just cooking but also serving food, joining in with parties and interacting with residents.
“We were all part of the family and you do form a close relationship with them,” the 56-year-old says.
“It was upsetting to see the residents crying because I was going to leave. It was very upsetting on that score but it was something that had to be because I wasn’t willing to be bullied into having the jab. It was awful.
“I wore PPE, I was testing two or three times a week. I did everything that was asked and I was safe enough for 18 months. It’s madness.
“It’s against my human rights I believe. I always said it’s not never, it’s just not now. At the moment I don’t think it’s an option for me.”
After losing her job she was out of work for two months before finding alternative employment, and Lynda says the financial worries put strain on her marriage.
“I feel sorry for anybody who’s going to lose their job and it’s going to be very hard, especially so close to Christmas,” she adds.
She also has fears about the effect the vaccine requirements will have on the state of the care industry in the future.
“They might have the jab but have they got the qualifications and the training?” she asks.
“It is going to affect the sector in all ways and it is going to affect the residents because when you’re short staffed you haven’t got as much time to spend with them and form those relationships properly.
“It’s bound to have an effect and it’s not going to be a good one.”
Julie started working in care when she was 16 and is now training as a student nurse.
During the pandemic she worked in care homes on placements as a health care assistant, which meant she was required to get the vaccine under the new rules.
Despite agreeing to have both doses, the 25-year-old says she felt pressured against her wishes to be vaccinated.
“I am not one of those people who’s completely anti-vax but I just don’t think enough time has been given into seeing the effects of the vaccine,” she says.
“I have had health issues and fertility issues and stuff like that.
“Every single person I know – including residents – who has caught Covid has actually had the vaccine and been vaccinated.
“I think a lot of people think we are just being awkward and want to be a step ahead of the government but people are genuinely scared to have it.
“I trust medicine otherwise I wouldn’t work with the NHS but I don’t think enough research has gone into it.
“But I have trained hard to do my nursing, I didn’t want to throw that away. I love my job and I love the people that I work with.”
Like other people in the care industry, she worries about what the future will look like when experienced carers leave the industry from November 11.
She argues that many carers would take home the same wage working at a supermarket, where they wouldn’t be required to have the vaccine.
“Healthcare is only a minimum wage job, it’s very underpaid,” Julie says.
“It’s not just the people that are losing their jobs that are suffering, it’s also the residents. It’s the homes that are going to suffer because homes are going to be understaffed.
“It’s supposed to be one carer per seven residents but at the moment that’s not the case.
“The care that’s being given to residents is also at risk.”
What do care home bosses think?
Her concerns about the implications for the sector and elderly and vulnerable residents are echoed by care home managers in Greater Manchester.
Sue Mattinson, who runs Wyncourt Nursing Home in Timperley, is forthright about her opposition to the deadline handed to care workers, months ahead of compulsory vaccine targets for the NHS.
She is facing losing six of her ‘excellent’ staff to the new rules, and had written to the government and her MP over the issue.
“It’s distressing just to have to sack good staff because of personal choice. I think it’s totally wrong,” she says.
“There is no point Savid Javid saying he’s putting money into the industry, you can’t recruit if there is nobody to recruit – there are no nurses.
“I have been recruiting for a registered manager for nine months.
“It’s all well and good saying they are going to assist, even the agencies haven’t got nurses. We have lost some good carers and it’s distressing.
“There isn’t any staff out there to recruit, and people don’t want to be recruited into the industry. It’s a thankless job with a high turnover.”
Despite her passion about the issue, she feels her efforts to fight the policy have fallen on ‘deaf ears’.
“They are not interested. They listened to the NHS for a little bit because they are worried about winter flu but they haven’t thought it through, because if hospitals can’t discharge patients because of shortages in care homes then you have bed blocking,” Sue adds.
“It’s a dire industry at the moment.
“They keep saying they want us to look after the elderly but they want us to sack people who are good carers and good nurses and leave us short staffed.
“In what other industry are people losing their jobs because they don’t want to have the vaccine? It should be in line with the NHS.
“We worked through Covid and actually since it’s been mandatory all the employees that I have had recently that have caught Covid have all been either double or triple jabbed.
“It reduces transmission and I agree it’s really important. I am a great believer in that, as are residents.
“But I still think there should be a degree of personal choice. Many people have valid reasons why they don’t want it, they are not ‘anti vaxxers’.”
She adds: “A lot of carers were burnt out by Covid working through the pandemic.
“Working in a nursing home, you’re wearing PPE, you’re testing every day, asking families to wear PPE when in the rest of the world it’s like Covid doesn’t exist – it’s changed the industry and become more soulless. It’s hard.”
Martyn Davies, who runs Urmston Manor Residential Home in Trafford explains that while he himself is very pro vaccination, he also believes in ‘personal choice’.
“What the government hasn’t really thought of is this will clog up the service further,” he says.
“If homes are run with less qualified staff then residents are more likely to go into hospital with malnutrition, all different reasons they go into hospital.
“And it will delay them being discharged back into the community because of staff shortages.
“I think people should be vaccinated because they feel it’s the right thing for them.”
He adds: “Personally I just feel that a mandatory vaccine isn’t the right way to go and I think it will negatively impact the industry.
“Care homes in general are struggling for staff now but we are very fortunate. All our staff are paid above the real living wage, with bonuses on top.
“It [the mandatory vaccine] is a massive shame but it is flogging a dead horse now. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do or the right time to do it.”
UNISON North West regional organiser Dan Smith said: “The vaccine is one of the ways out of the pandemic. UNISON encourages everyone who can have the vaccine to do so, but the government’s hard-line approach has made an already bad staffing situation significantly worse. Employers and unions warned this heavy-handed approach would cause more harm than good.
“The care sector was already in crisis, this could be the final straw for many, staffing levels in many care settings are already dangerously low. A sector already on the brink has been pushed closer to the edge by a government that could have handled things very differently.”
How will gaps be covered?
In a briefing to Manchester council’s health scrutiny meeting on Wednesday, executive director of adult social services, Bernie Enright told members they had ‘contingency plans’ in place for continuity of care in their 90 care homes.
However there may be ‘wider implications’ of the legislation across the health and social care workforce in Manchester, he added.
They had ‘big increases’ in vaccine uptake towards the deadline, Mr Enright said, adding ‘thank god’.
Executive member for health and care, Councillor Joanna Midgley added it was ‘not an ideal situation’ but they were constantly monitoring it.
In a statement to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, she said: “In Manchester 85pc of care home staff are double vaccinated, according to the national capacity tracker. An even higher proportion, 92pc, have received their first dose of the vaccine.
“We anticipate the number of second doses to increase as staff who waited until the deadline to get their first jab are now eligible to receive their second, and new staff who are fully vaccinated are taking up their roles in care homes.
“The pandemic has been incredibly difficult for care homes and the council remains committed to supporting them through the coming months.
“Contingency plans have been submitted by care homes to the council which, in the event of staff shortages, can be quickly acted on to ensure no gap in care for residents.”
In Bolton, bosses expect to lose 51 staff as a result of the mandatory vaccination policy, just over 2pc of the workforce.
Coun Andy Morgan, executive cabinet member for adult services, said: “The mandatory vaccination of front-line care staff will obviously result in the loss of valuable staff form the care home workforce and could undoubtedly pose some difficulties in the short term which is regrettable.
“However, homes affected are actively recruiting replacement staff and I would urge anyone thinking about making social care their profession to step forward and become part of what is an amazing team.”
A spokesperson for Oldham council said: “We’ve had a successful take up rate amongst our care home staff with 100pc having had one dose, and 93.5pc being double vaccinated, this is the highest rate across Greater Manchester.
“None of our care homes are reporting any significant staffing challenges linked to vaccinations and they will all run as normal tomorrow with the appropriate staffing levels.
“We will continue to monitor staffing levels as part of our usual oversight processes.”
The latest weekly NHS figures, released on November 11, show the uptake of vaccinations among staff in Greater Manchester.
According to the stats, which cover the week up until Sunday, November 7, Manchester has the lowest take up of the second dose of the jab, followed by Salford, then Rochdale and Stockport.
Wigan, Bolton and Oldham top the table for the highest number of staff reporting a second jab.