'Heartbreaking:' Care home faces losing 35 unvaccinated staff under new Covid jab rules

Carers face losing their jobs if they don't get their Covid jabs and 18% of carers still haven't been double vaccinated, ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand reports

Care homes have warned they face losing tens of thousands of staff under the new government 'no jab, no job' Covid-19 policy.

Care workers in England must get their first coronavirus vaccine dose by September 16 and be double-jabbed by November 11 in order to keep their jobs.

But there are concerns many workers will not be fully vaccinated by the deadline, leaving severe staff shortages and many care homes in danger of closing. PK Care face losing 35 of their 600 staff under the new rules, many of whom have been with the company since its inception 20 years ago.

"To have them almost forcibly removed from us is heartbreaking" - Mark Butler, Director Of Operations at PJ Care says the 'no jab, no job' policy would mean losing valuable care workers

Mark Butler, Director Of Operations at PJ Care, said the prospect was "heartbreaking" and hoped exceptions could be made.

"Some of those staff that we can potentially still lose have been here since the company started, some 20 years ago.

"We've got a lot of staff who have more or less devoted their careers to PJ Care and looking after our residents, and to have them almost forcibly removed from us is heartbreaking."

Less than 24 hours before the deadline, the government announced a temporary self-certification process for medical exemptions. It will allow staff and volunteers to self-certify that they meet the medical exemption criteria before the new NHS Covid pass system is introduced, with these exemptions expiring 12 weeks after its launch.

Mr Butler hoped the exception rule would mean some of the staff the company risk losing would be able to remain in their jobs.

"The current rules have taken us to a position where, yesterday, we were facing the loss of, company-wide, 35 of our staff. And then we get some information about an exception, which may mean we will be able to retain some of those staff."

Mr Butler added: "To lose 35 is bad going in the scheme of things, but our success is built on relationship that those staff have with our residents. And to lose one of those staff, as I say is heartbreaking, and, frankly, unnecessary."

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He dismissed the idea that staff who were not jabbed were "a bunch of anti-vaccinaters", saying staff had chosen not to have the vaccine for a variety of reasons, including allergies and religious beliefs.

Sophia Rodriguez has been working at PJ Care for 15 years. Her decision not to have the Covid vaccine is, in large part, due to her fervent Christian beliefs, she said.

Ms Rodriguez, who is originally from Zimbabwe, has not had a vaccine since she was 13.

"I have views, I have my opinions... I have my life and my health to take care of," she said.

Sophia Rodriguez will not have a Covid vaccine due to her religious beliefs. Credit: ITV News

She has had close friends die after contracting Covid, and says she would not want to give anyone the virus, but added she would rather quit her job than go against her beliefs.

Joyce Pinfield from the National Care Association, which represents care homes across the UK told ITV News the policy was "causing great distress," across the sector.

"It's been a very blunt instrument" - Joyce Pinfield from the National Care Association says the policy has exacerbated a staffing crisis in the care sector

There were 112,000 vacancies in the care sector at the beginning of the pandemic, Ms Pinfield said, and the mandatory vaccination stance would exacerbate this staffing crisis.

A risk assessment on the impact of the policy has estimated the sector could lose between 40,000 and 70,000 staff, she said.

"Of course, we all want our staff to be vaccinated to give the best possible care to our most vulnerable residents in society. However, we do feel that it's been a very blunt instrument and forced just upon the care homes staff and not the NHS who also look after the most vulnerable people," she told ITV News.