All care home staff in England should be vaccinated, a senior government minister has urged, saying she would not want her own relatives to be looked after by unvaccinated carers.
Speaking on behalf of the government on Wednesday, the international trade secretary, Liz Truss, said it was incredibly important for staff to get the jab, though she refused to confirm reports ministers were poised to make it mandatory.
The Guardian reported on Tuesday that ministers would push ahead with compulsory vaccination for most of the 1.5 million people working in social care in England.
Care sector representatives reacted with dismay to the move, saying it would be better to give care providers more time to persuade their staff to get vaccinated, rather than forcing them, citing the difficulties they were already facing in keeping and recruiting staff.
Truss said: “It’s incredibly important that staff in care homes are vaccinated. We have got a hugely vulnerable population in our care homes and making sure that staff are vaccinated is a priority.”
Speaking to Sky News, she refused to prejudge the government’s response to a consultation on the issue. But, pressed for her view if she had a parent in a care home, she said: “I would want the staff to be vaccinated, of course I would, because I would want my parent to be protected.”
Reports have suggested care home workers could be deployed elsewhere if they are not vaccinated within 16 weeks. Vic Rayner, the chief executive of the National Care Forum, which represents not-for-profit carers, has said this would be “really challenging” for the sector.
“If there is this 16-week window, then that really is a very short period of time for people to make the kind of changes that are needed,” she said.
Rayner said she expected to be told that staff who are not vaccinated must be deployed away from vulnerable people, rather than that they should be fired.
But she told BBC Breakfast: “Clearly, if you work in a care home, there isn’t anywhere else for you to go that isn’t involved in working with those individuals …
“That’s really challenging for a sector that’s largely made up of small employers and don’t really have anywhere else for people to go. So we need to be really clear that this is potentially about people no longer being able to work in the sector.”
A member of the Independent Care Group, which represents care providers in York and North Yorkshire, said the industry was already facing an uphill challenge due to staff shortages and that persuading those staff not already vaccinated would be preferable.
Mike Padgham told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It feels like we’re fighting two battles, really – Covid-19, which is the critical bit; but also the government on many things, who don’t seem to understand social care.
“We need some help on this, but make it compulsory and giving us recruitment problems is going to be a big problem for us all.”
On Wednesday, all people over 21 in England were invited to book their Covid-19 vaccination. People aged 21 and 22 are able to book for the first time after the head of the NHS in England said all adults in the nation should be able to book their first jab by the end of the week.