Carol Thomas, a retired health academic who lives with multiple sclerosis, is about to lose not just a carer but a companion because of the government’s “no jab, no job” policy.
Unless the policy is changed, which looks unlikely after the health secretary, Sajid Javid, this month told un-jabbed care workers to “get out and get another job”, the 62-year-old’s days of being cared for by Debbie Vickers are numbered.
Vickers, who has more than a dozen years experience in social care and the NHS, has become a friend as well as someone who hoists Thomas in and out of bed and undertakes the most personal of care for the former professor at Lancaster University’s faculty of health and medicine.
But she is among tens of thousands of care home staff in England declining the vaccine who now face redundancy. Guardian analysis of the latest NHS data reveals the decision to make double Covid-19 vaccination a “condition of deployment” from 11 November is on course to force up to 38,000 staff out of older adult care homes, deepening a staffing crisis which is already forcing care home closures and discharge backlogs in hospitals.
As of 10 October 12% of staff in older adult care homes were still not double-jabbed rising to more than one in five in areas including Birmingham, Manchester, Stoke and Hackney in London. A small number of these may be able to apply for medical exemptions.
Vickers said she was “no anti-vaxxer”. Her decision comes because of an earlier adverse reaction to a flu jab. She may get a few weeks’ grace, but still she faces redundancy from what Thomas believes is an ethically wrong and practically illogical “insulting, discriminatory blanket ban”.
Many see the value in care workers being vaccinated, given Covid was involved in the deaths of 42,732 care home residents in England and Wales to the start of October. But with 105,000 care staff vacancies in England exacerbated by a slump in foreign workers arriving to fill the low-wage roles, operators are calling for a pause on the strict policy, which not does not apply to NHS staff.
A snapshot survey of 34 independent care operators this month seen by the Guardian found more than half believed they would lose six or more staff as result. The National Care Association also found that close to one in five operators believe staff shortages will affect their ability to operate at full capacity. Two care homes in Cumbria closed last week for that reason. Advinia, which runs Barrock Court in Low Hesket, confirmed vaccine hesitancy was a contributory factor.
Thomas said she was set to lose four people who care for her at her Sheffield care home. One, who feels she has a medical condition and should be excused, is being supported by her GP but cannot “tick the box” for a medical exemption because her condition has not been confirmed by a consultant, Thomas said. Another, from Hungary, said her feeling was that “if the state requires you to do something, you don’t”.
“I really object to a lot of the anti-vax propaganda on social media but the carers involved are not objecting for those reasons,” Thomas said. “I don’t think it is right that parliament should decide that people have to be vaccinated. Individuals have a right not to be instructed by the state to take vaccines if they feel it is dangerous or for whatever reason.”
She said she was capable of deciding the type of care she wants. She would be comfortable with her carers taking other steps to counter infection risk, “but the government has given care homes no choice but to terminate their employment”.
“I won’t be able to work with Carol, but I can visit her in her room, take her out to the pub,” said Vickers. “The residents have a choice not to be vaccinated and visitors don’t have to be vaccinated. It is discrimination and also quite stupid. Where is the logic? Does the virus recognise me as a visitor and not a carer?”
“We are losing really good staff and nursing homes are going to buckle,” she added. “I am losing my job and my career. I feel as if it’s an ultimatum, not a choice. We have been working all the way through this [pandemic] and it is a kick in the guts. I love the people I care for. I become friends with a lot of them and their families.”
The Department for Health and Social Care has been asked for comment.