Care staff crisis in Blackpool as unjabbed workers forced to quit

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New Covid vaccine rules will make recruitment harder for the care sector, said local agency

Recruiting carers for homes in Blackpool will be even harder now they must legally be vaccinated against Covid-19, a resort agency owner said after 10 ‘good’ long-term workers quit the industry.

Ilona Vincenti from Zillian Healthcare, in Church Street, which supplies staff to nursing homes, care homes, and private hospitals up and down the Fylde coast, fears the future following the new rule, which came in on Thursday – and will hit frontline NHS medics from next April.

She said: “We just can’t afford to lose more staff.”

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Zillian Healthcare Agency has lost staff because of the new vaccine rules for care workersZillian Healthcare Agency has lost staff because of the new vaccine rules for care workers
Zillian Healthcare Agency has lost staff because of the new vaccine rules for care workers

The National Care Association warned the move to make two courses of vaccinations compulsory for carers unless they are medically exempt would lead to a crisis during the critical winter period, with 4,000 quitting nationally since September and vacancies topping 100,000.

Retention is also a struggle, with industries such as hospitality and retail offering better pay and hours.

While many of the 24 resort care homes contacted by The Gazette declined to comment on the impact of the new law, just seven said all staff had been vaccinated.

Tim Wood, manager at the Thornlea Rest Home in St Annes Road, South Shore, said: “It’s okay for us now but we will have to wait and see.

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“There could be a threat for new staff but it’s too early to say.”

Andy Havlin from Quantum Carers, which is based in nearby Preston and supplies staff throughout the county, added: “All we can do is follow guidelines. We can’t employ anybody now who isn’t fully vaccinated.”

Ms Vincenti, who launched her agency a decade ago, said her departing staff ‘feared they would be pressured to take the jab’, adding: “We respect their choice and we can only try and accommodate them.”

And she said her agency, which is fighting to compete for the shrinking supply of talented care workers, faces extra work when they self-certify for medical exemptions without a formal diagnosis.

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She said: “Agency staff will always come and go so we are constantly recruiting – it’s become harder than ever now as the hospitals, care homes, and other agencies are all in need.

“We lost so many workers due to Brexit – then the pandemic. This is the last thing we need. It’s getting harder to provide a good service when we can’t get the right people.”

Blackpool had the best vaccination rate for care home staff in the country, The Gazette revealed last month, with 98.4 per cent having their first dose, while almost 94 per cent had received both.

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Latest Covid community infection rates for Blackpool, Fylde, and Wyre

All elderly care home residents have had at least one jab, with the figure for those who have had both slightly under 100 per cent due to the time required between jabs.

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Karen Smith, director of adult services at Blackpool Council, told a meeting of the adult social care and health scrutiny committee: “We have achieved vaccination rates that are the envy of the rest of the country.

“As we head towards mandatory vaccinations, our rates are the best in the land for our residential staff and care at home staff.”

But nationally, tens of thousands of care home staff faced quitting or being sacked as the mandatory jabs policy kicked in.

More than 56,000 staff had not had two doses just four days before the deadline, NHS England figures showed, though several thousand were understood to have self-certified as exempt or applied for formal proof. Health officials expected the number of vaccinated staff to have risen in the remaining four days and it was unclear how many staff had already quit.

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According to analysis, there are nearly 9,000 fewer staff in older care homes since the Government announced jabs would become mandatory in mid June, although this is likely due to multiple reasons.

Care home providers can choose to redeploy staff into non-frontline roles to save their jobs, if they are available, or place them on paid or unpaid leave until they receive both doses.

As late as Wednesday, care groups were calling for the deadline to be delayed to next April, saying the “no jab, no job” policy would amount to “no staff, no care”.

Care groups have said the shortages mean some homes are unable to accept hospital patients ready for discharge, while burnout is on the cards for staff who are being put under increased pressure as winter nears.

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One care worker who has lost his job due to the requirement said he feels “let down, abandoned, betrayed” and worried for the future of the care sector.

Nadra Ahmed from the National Care Association said: “Taking away our ability to retain experienced staff during the critical winter period shows a lack of understanding about the value of social care for those who access our services.

“The NHS will struggle to discharge out of the acute sector into safe environments where people can be supported at a critical time in their lives.”

Dr Jim Gardner, medical director at Blackpool Victoria Hospital and the Clifton Hospital in St Annes, recently told of ‘real pressure now in social care as well’.

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He said: “There are patients in hospital who are really waiting now to go home or go back to care homes and we really need as much help as possible from the whole community – friends, family – to look after each other and get people out of hospital and back to where one would assume they would like to be, either in their homes or in a care home to move forward.”

Another membership group, the National Care Forum (NCF), said care homes were embroiled in disciplinary proceedings, managing appeals and forking out for specialist legal advice over the requirement.

Members reported spending an “enormous amount of time” implementing the policy, with almost all holding extra staff briefings and needing additional HR resources.

They estimated on average 3.5 per cent of their staff had already resigned or been dismissed, and estimated a further 4.4 per cent might have to leave this week – a loss the NCF said the sector could “ill afford”.

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The Department of Health and Social Care said it was its “responsibility to do everything we can to protect vulnerable people”.

A spokesman added: “We consulted and worked closely with the sector to encourage take-up of the vaccine ahead of the deadline.

“Since the consultation was announced, uptake of the first dose amongst care home staff has risen from 80 per cent to 94 per cent.

“We are working closely with local authorities and care home providers to ensure there will always be enough staff with the right skills to deliver high-quality care.”

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Earlier this month, Victoria Hospital director James Wilkie said eight per cent of workers there remain unvaccinated, adding: “Translate that to numbers, that’s several hundred people.”

He warned that, when the jabs become compulsory for patient-facing medics who aren’t medically exempt, bosses ‘could be looking at dismissals’.

Health secretary Sajid Javid said: “Allow me to be clear that no one in the NHS or care that is currently unvaccinated should be scapegoated, singled out or shamed. That would be totally unacceptable.

“This is about supporting them to make a positive choice to protect vulnerable people, to protect their colleagues. And of course to protect themselves.”