Blackpool nursing homes leading way with six in seven staff receiving Covid jab

The manager of a care home which came under the national TV spotlight in the early days of the pandemic is confident Blackpool is showing the right way to help ensure as many care home staff as possible are vaccinated against Covid 19.

Friday, 19th March 2021, 7:00 am

Newly-released NHS statistics show that around six in seven care home staff in Blackpool have been vaccinated.

A total of 1,670 workers in such premises for older adults in the resort were eligible for a first dose up to March 7 and 1,423 received it.

That equates to only 15 per cent of staff, including agency workers, having not had a jab – and UNISON, the union which represents care workers, says employees should be encouraged into receiving a jab, with those who are uncertain requiring support.

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Eighty five per cent of Blackpool care home workers have been given the Covid 19 jab - one of the best ratios in the country

Blackpool’s figure is one of the best compared to the rest of the country, with the 85 per cent uptake reflected in the statistics contrasting sharply with only 60 per cent in London having had their first jab.

In the North West, 27 per cent of eligible care home workers have not been vaccinated, while nationally, the figure is 26 per cent – or 74 per cent who have had it.

And Lisa Robins, manager at the Blackpool’s Pennystone Court care home, in Handsworth Road, reckons the resort is showing the way forward.

“I’ve been really impressed with the way the vaccinations are going for staff at Pennystone Court as well as our residents,” said Lisa, who is also a governor at Blackpool Victoria Hospital.

“All of our 36 residents had their first jabs some weeks ago and are due for their second next week.

“Around 95 per cent of the 40 or so staff have also been vaccinated and the figure of those not happy to came down after some excellent ‘myth-busting’ sessions involving the council health team.

“Whether or not to have the vaccine is a personal decision of course which can be taken for all sorts of individual reasons but the important thing is to do everything possible is done to help ensure that decision is a fully informed one.

“Just under 10 per cent of staff were uncertain initially, but one-to-one chats have helped reduce that number substantially.”

Karen Smith, Blackpool Council Director of Adult Services, said: “A higher percentage of staff in care homes in Blackpool have been vaccinated compared to other areas in the country.

“The uptake has been around 85 per cent and we have been well placed in the top five nationally.

“We continue to work on an individual basis with every care home in Blackpool to help inform and support any staff that may have questions about the vaccine.

“As well as supporting care home staff and residents with their vaccinations, all our frontline social care services in the council and in private providers are working hard on getting staff vaccinated, with over 90 per cent of in-house staff and over 70 per cent of private provider staff already vaccinated.”

Pennystone Court, and particularly its measures to keep Covid at bay, featured on BBC TV’s Newsnight last year.

“When they came to see us we had had one outbreak but it was quickly contained and we have been Covid free ever since,” said Lisa.

“The staff have been wonderful throughout and are proud of the measures in place, including us all wearing masks and visors and thorough sanitisation.”

Lancashire’s director of public health Dr Sakthi Karunanithi has said the frontline care workforce should be “a role model for the rest of the population” by taking up the offer of a coronavirus vaccine - as figures suggest a third in the County Council area, which includes, Fylde and Wyre, have yet to be jabbed.

He feels more need to be done to build “vaccine confidence” among those employed in caring roles, particularly younger age groups.

Dr Karunanithi told a recent meeting of the Lancashire health and wellbeing board that the take-up rate among frontline workers in the county was “a bit of a problem” - and that some staff needed “encouraging, motivating and incentivising” to be vaccinated.

He said: “Most of the issues are around access - people who don’t have a car or can’t take time off work. A lot of these workers are lower paid, so it’s not always convenient for them to go to the place where the vaccines are being administered.

“There is also the problem of needle phobia, as well as concern over fertility issues [caused by the vaccine], although there is no evidence of that. As we move down the age groups, including the health and care workforce, vaccine confidence is lower - we are not an outlier in Lancashire in that respect.

“However, the vaccines are increasingly shown not just to protect individuals, but also prevent ongoing transmission.

“And as frontline workers, we have a duty not only to protect ourselves, but also the people we care for,”

Staff members and residents in care homes for older adults are in the top four priority groups for the vaccination.

Last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said everyone in those groups - which also includes people aged 75 and over and those clinically extremely vulnerable - had been offered a first dose.

Since then, a growing number of care home providers around the country have made it a requirement for new staff to have the Covid-19 vaccine. But the UNISON union which represents workers in the sector said such a “heavy-handed approach” is the opposite of what is needed to encourage workers to have the vaccine.

Gavin Edwards, the union’s national officer for social care, said: “Care employees work long shifts, antisocial hours and at different sites. Vaccinations need to be offered at a convenient time and place for workers.” Lisa said that administering vaccinations for Pennystone Court staff had been a mixture of in the home itself or at vaccination centres and that allowance had been made for the appointments at external venues.

Chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, said healthcare staff had a “professional responsibility” to get vaccinated.

There are no clear signs yet that the Government will make it compulsory.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We have visited every eligible care home in England, offered vaccines to all staff, and are doing everything we can to ensure all those who can, take up the vital offer.

“All eligible staff can book using the national booking service. We continue to work closely with the care sector and local leaders in communities with lower take up to maximise vaccination numbers and save thousands of lives.”

In Blackpool, 1,153 residents in care homes for older people have received their first dose of a vaccination – equating to 97 per cent of eligible residents.

That compares with 94 per cent across England, according to the latest NHS figures.

Based on most recent data published by NHS Statistics, a total of 123,554 residents across the Fylde Coast had received a first dose of the vaccine, including more than 90 per cent of over 65-year-olds in both Blackpool and Fylde and Wyre CCGs.

Blackpool Council’s director of health Dr Arif Rajpura said at a meeting of the council’s adult social care and health scrutiny committee it was important to carry on with vaccinating the rest of the adult population once the over-50s age group had received their jabs.

This was vital to reduce infection rates among younger adults, where most transmission is now occurring.

He said “The rollout of the vaccination programme has been a success” and this has “put us in a really decent position going into the roadmap”.

He added: “Vaccination will be really important and once we get through the one to nine vulnerable groups, all the over 50s, it’s important to move onto the rest of the adult population.

“Unless we do the rest of the adult population we’re not going to reduce that transmission, so it’s really important we move onto the rest of the adult population.”

After it emerged that national supply problems would mean first vaccine appointments being unavailable through April, Dr Rajpura added: ”Vaccine safety is really important and taken very seriously and side effects are reported and examined. The Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) are keeping a close eye on vaccine safety.

“All available vaccines are safe and effective and showing real reductions in the severity of illness in those that have been vaccinated. I would urge everyone who gets invited for a vaccine to get booked in straight away.

“However, it is really disappointing and unfortunate that there will be a reduction in supply in April as we were gearing up to roll out the vaccination programme to the rest of the adult population.

“When supplies start to improve we have the capacity to really ramp up our local vaccination programme as our ambition is to vaccinate the adult population as quickly as possible.

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