Opinion

Covid vaccine u-turn too late for thousands of care workers

Rachel Harrison, National Officer, Public Services Section, GMB National Office

For thousands of care workers, the Government’s u-turn on mandating the covid vaccine came too late and the damage will take years to repair without Ministers and employers being proactive in reaching out. 

Care workers in adult residential care homes had already been forced out of employment in November 2021 when the Government pushed ahead with this heavy-handed policy of forced vaccination – despite warnings from GMB and others. 

To be clear, GMB is supportive of the vaccination programme and we have actively encouraged our members to be vaccinated.  But we are opposed to the mandating of vaccinations for any worker. So much more could, and should, have been done to reach out to vaccine hesitant workers and educate and encourage take up.  

Many of the underlying reasons for vaccine hesitancy have been left unresolved. These include limited access to vaccines for workers on long shifts, fears regarding side effects, impacts on sick pay, misinformation, cultural barriers, medical exemptions and genuine fear.  

We have to ask ourselves why Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland managed to do this so much better than England a – without the need to mandate vaccinations. 

As predicted thousands left their jobs, either voluntarily or through forced termination.  Staff who were vaccine hesitant or unsupportive of the mandate found employment elsewhere, leaving an already chronically understaffed sector without safe staffing levels. 

Three months after this mandate we can all see the huge impact it has had on the sector.  GMB works closely with many care providers who tell us they are now having to rely on agency workers for job roles they’ve never before had problems filling.  

Chefs, kitchen assistants and domestics all left for higher paid jobs in hospitality and retail.   Carers left to go and work in the wider community and health services.  Nurses moved into the NHS, primary care and community care. The staff left behind are covering for their missing colleagues and working under extreme pressures which are becoming unbearable for those who have struggled throughout the pandemic. 

Despite all this, Ministers pushed ahead with extending the mandate to the wider social care sector and health care settings; this demonstrates just out of touch this Government is – oblivious to the realities and needs of social care. 

The fact Ministers have now u-turned due to the fear of the NHS being unable to cope shows exactly where social care sits on the Government’s priority list.  

Social care is regularly treated as inferior to the health service and this is just another example of the status of care workers compared to their colleagues in the health service. 

The Secretary of State has said all workers who left the sector due to this policy should reapply for their jobs.  Wrong. The Government and care providers should be proactively reaching out to all of those who left – either voluntarily or through termination – and be invited back into employment. A returners’ bonus would also be welcomed.  

We need a national plan for social care and GMB is campaigning for £15 per hour as a minimum for the dedicated professionals working in social care and doing the jobs the nation needs them to do. 

For more information about the benefits of GMB membership for your employees and you, please contact PublicServices@gmb.org.uk 

 

Edel Harris

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