WITH 165,000 vacancies in the social care sector, Health Secretary Steve Barclay is being urged to do the right thing and apologise to, reinstate and compensate approximately 40,000 experienced care workers forced out for declining Covid-19 vaccination. An open letter campaign led by the Together Association has received over 50,000 signatures.
The entirely predictable upshot of this disastrous policy has been catastrophic disruption to the care sector, which of course is inextricably linked with the ability of the NHS to function adequately. In addition to the 165,000 staff vacancies, 500,000 people are waiting for assessments, care or reviews, on top of a £3.7billion funding gap which has brought many providers to the brink of collapse.
Sajid Javid’s ‘mandate’ policy for care workers in England was always wrong in practice as well as principle. Even Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford – seldom outdone for nonsensical Covid authoritarianism – weren’t reckless enough to replicate it officially in their nations. For starters, natural immunity was totally ignored as a factor for reasons which remain nebulous. Throughout most of 2021, it was clear that Covid jabs did not prevent transmission and by October, even the Guardian was reporting that ‘research reveals fully vaccinated people are just as likely to pass (the) virus on . . . whether an infected individual is themselves fully vaccinated or unvaccinated makes little or no difference’. This alone should have been enough to kill off this divisive policy. Yet Javid took to television the same month, belligerently ‘warning’ care workers ‘if you cannot be bothered to go and get vaccinated then get out . . . go and get another job.’
On November 9, 2021, the Department of Health and Social Care warned Javid that his ‘mandate’ policy would result in upwards of 40,000 care staff leaving the sector. He persisted with it anyway, and on November 11, workers who had not already been forced out were sacked in droves. Many lost not only their job but also their pension. While not letting off the hook those who voted in favour, we now know that no impact assessment was prepared for MPs, as it should have been, in advance of a vote at very short notice.
Though Javid was forced to abandon vaccination as a condition of deployment in health and social care settings on March 1, 2022, the damage had already been done with so many skilled and experienced staff lost. Many of them, often now in better paid and less demanding work, will be hard to attract back, not least as they feel so thoroughly insulted, undervalued and bullied.
In purely financial terms, the cost of the ‘mandate’ policy to the care sector was profound. The Department of Health and Social Care calculated that each employee lost to the policy would cost £2,500 to replace in recruitment, induction and training costs alone, leaving care providers with an estimated bill of upwards of £100million.
Given all the warnings, both from within government and – albeit in somewhat muted fashion – across the sector itself, to persist with this policy was reckless in the extreme. Without a functioning social care system, the NHS will collapse. At last count, one in seven NHS hospital beds were ‘blocked’, to use that horrible phrase.
Together is calling on Steve Barclay and Care Minister Helen Whately to do three things, urgently, to make some amends and ease suffering:
As remarked earlier, thousands of workers forced out of the sector feel thoroughly insulted and bullied by the events of the last 18 months or so. An official apology from Government that the previous policy was a mistake would be a simple but essential step to resolving this mess. To return to the sector, workers will also need reassurance that this can never happen again.
Reinstatement in privately run care settings will require support from the Government to enable individual employers to take staff back. The Secretary of State must use his influence to encourage it; if necessary, legislation may be necessary.
It seems most MPs imagine that because the official ‘mandate’ went away, care workers who have chosen to decline Covid jabs can simply return. But there is much evidence of individual care homes still ‘requiring’ these jabs as a condition of employment. Legally questionable as this may be, it underlines that in addition to the need for an open public apology for the ‘mandate’ policy, clarification of the legal position for job applicants and employers in the sector, and an awareness campaign encouraging reinstatement of the lost care workers, should be a priority.
As mentioned, many experienced care workers who were forced out have now found better paid and likely less demanding work. By the same token, most were in the care sector because they really did care; it was a calling as much as a ‘job’. We believe many can be attracted back subject to a public apology and awareness campaign across the sector encouraging reinstatement. However, with a cost-of-living crisis brought on in large part by the official Covid response itself, it would be foolish to imagine these workers are likely to do so without a reasonable financial incentive – in addition to competitive pay.
Of course, it is deeply regrettable that compensating victims of this failed policy will incur yet more cost to the taxpayer. But frankly, what else is new – and what other option is there at this desperate stage?
If you would like to add your name to our open letter, which closes soon, please click here.