Social protection is a neglected part of our healthcare system, says BARONESS ROS ALTMANN | Express a comment | Comment

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The government backtracks on its mandatory vaccination policy (Image: SolStock/Getty)

Unfortunately, this U-turn came too late for the staff of our retirement homes. Those who refused to be vaccinated were to be fired. This has led to 40,000 care home workers quitting the jobs many of them loved, since the requirement to double them was introduced last November.

Of course, vaccination is important. It’s the best way to protect against Covid and the vast majority of people were eager to get completely stung. But some are extremely nervous and need more time to be convinced.

People who are afraid often react negatively to pressure or threats, rather than being persuaded.

This turned out to be the case for some staff, as compulsory vaccination was imposed on care homes without proper preparation and support. Too often, social care seems to be the neglected part of our health care system.

Care home operators, their staff and the vulnerable people whose lives depend on them are treated as of secondary importance.

Despite widespread warnings of staff shortages, they were pushed to the bottom of the pile and valuable workers lost their jobs.

Meanwhile, NHS and homecare staff – for whom mandatory vaccination rules were only due to come into force from April 1 – have been spared the policy reversal.

By imposing the policy only on care homes months ahead of other parts of the health and care sector, this misguided policy decision has actually deepened the welfare crisis, despite the Prime Minister’s promises to resolve it.

NHS Covid related absences

NHS Covid related absences (Image: EXPRESS.CO.UK)

Of course, vaccination can reduce the likelihood of catching Covid or becoming seriously ill, but it does not completely stop transmission.

Therefore, ignoring the obvious impact on staffing levels seems like a detrimental goal.

Instead of continuing to give workers more time to make up their minds, the government continued, ignoring its own impact assessment showing that the welfare sector could lose 7.6% of its staff, and a report by the House of Lords warning that he had failed to explain how staff losses could be mitigated.

As they still grapple with the fallout from Covid, care home operators, the workforce and residents have to wonder when they will get the attention they deserve.

Lessons should have been learned from the terrible decision at the start of the pandemic to force Covid patients out of hospitals into nursing homes, without ensuring they could be safely cared for.

This neglect of social care in favor of the NHS has cost thousands of lives.

It was well known that care homes struggled to fill vacancies.

The industry has weathered a perfect storm, as underfunding of the board, low salaries, poor working conditions and lack of career structure have historically resulted in high staff turnover.

The pandemic, coupled with new immigration rules preventing low-paid workers from entering Britain, has seen previous sources of staff supply dry up.

Even the government’s belated announcement of special visas for health and care workers will not help much, as many earn less than the required minimum wage of £20,000.

Vacancies in care homes soared between May and December last year, while the number of applicants fell.

As wages for retail, hospitality and logistics workers rose sharply last year, people were lured away from healthcare into those sectors.

It’s hard to see how laying off workers in the midst of a staffing crisis would be in the interests of vulnerable people’s safety.

Far from protecting care home residents, by making the staffing crisis worse, the government has left more older people at risk.

Nonetheless, the government’s withdrawal is a welcome reprieve. It has saved some NHS and home care jobs but, sadly, a lot of damage has already been done.

By waiting until the very last moment (presumably in hopes of forcing more to get vaccinated), the whole fiasco has reduced the already depleted workforce.

This creates greater difficulties as the NHS resolves backlogs which already affect six million people.

I believe this should never have happened. It was a misguided policy that ignored constant warnings, compounded NHS and care pressures and once again treated social care and those who depended on it as a second-rate service.

The fact is that for many elderly or vulnerable people, a lack of adequate social care can be just as dangerous as poor health care.

It is time to put social workers and NHS workers on an equal footing, so that the people whose lives depend on their services are treated with the same respect.

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