'Carers feel like they're being punished,' warns union ahead of mandatory Covid vaccine deadline

Health and social care workers being assessed prior to receiving a vaccine jab in Newcastle. Credit: PA
  • Words by ITV News Multimedia Producer Yohannes Lowe

The care workers' union has reported a surge in calls from members reluctant to get jabbed as the deadline for care workers to be fully vaccinated draws nearer.

From November 11, it will be mandatory for anyone who works in a Care Quality Commission-registered care home in England to be fully vaccinated, unless they have a medical exemption.

But the GMB union has told ITV News it has seen a rise in the number of enquiries from carers, reluctant to get jabbed, seeking information on their employment rights. 

It says it also has seen an increasing number of members leave their social care jobs following dismissal for not being jabbed, or resigning out of choice.

"I have no doubt that as we get closer to November 11, the volume of calls will continue to increase because people want to know what we can do to support them and help with appeals and dismissal notices," Rachel Harrison, national GMB officer for health and social care, told ITV News. 

"There are a group of people who do not want to get the vaccine. This may be because of hesitancy as trials are continuing and people want to see what happens.

"There is also a lot of misinformation out there and some have taken it in."

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Employers are required to discuss alternative job opportunities with carers who are refusing to get vaccinated, but the GMB have heard of workers "just being sent a dismissal letter".

This potentially leaves them with little financial cover after they leave their post.

Ms Harrison warned of a growing tide of anger from within the sector as many carers feel like they were unfairly targeted with a compulsory vaccination order, which the union is critical of. 

"Carers feel like they are being punished, despite being the ones that kept our loved ones safe throughout the pandemic," she said.

"They were excluded from the initial PPE guidance and couldn't get tested but these are the people who are now being told they are putting people's lives at risk if they do not get vaccinated."

She said the sector is on course to be 170,000 carers short this autumn, as the 'no jab, no policy' threatens to trigger an "exodus" of workers and closures.

'It was unfair the way my job has been taken away for the sake of a personal decision'

Charley Walker, 28, lost her job as a wellbeing coordinator at a care home in Widnes, Cheshire, on September 30 - two weeks after the deadline by which care workers in England had to have had their first vaccine.

Ms Walker, who has a three-year-old daughter, told ITV News she was concerned about the speed with which the vaccine was created and did not want to feel pressured into making a decision to get jabbed. 

Charley Walker, 28, has a three-year-old daughter and lives in Runcorn. Credit: Charley Walker

"I am not an 'anti-vaxxer', but I got Covid last year in May whilst working on the frontline and only suffered from minor headaches," she said.

"I have worked for this company for just under a decade - and I think it was unfair the way my job has been taken away from me for the sake of a personal decision."

Now working as an office administrator, Ms Walker, who lives in Runcorn, said many of her former colleagues got vaccinated purely out of the fear of dismissal.

"Most of my colleagues got jabbed- a lot were scared of losing their jobs and not being able to find anything else. Others felt pressured into it."

"Even if I was offered another job in care, I wouldn't take it purely because of the way carers have been treated," she added.

UNISON - the UK's largest union - representing more than 1.3 million members, including health care workers, also opposes mandatory vaccinations.

It believes that persuasion would be a more effective tactic to win people over.

“Everybody should get their jab, but compulsion isn’t the right approach," said UNISON head of health Sara Gorton.

"Strong-arming NHS staff to get vaccinated is likely to slow take-up, create resentment and reduce fragile morale still further. Persuasion rather than force is key to convincing hesitant staff."

A care home resident receiving a coronavirus swab test in Whitley Bay, Tyneside. Credit: PA

In November last year, Nadra Ahmed, National Care Association chair, said only 40% of staff said they would get the vaccination - but at least 86% of staff have now had both doses.

While the take-up rate has significantly improved, some carers are still doubtful of the benefits of vaccination.

In published guidance over care home vaccinations, the Department of Health and Social said compulsory jabs will save lives and will protect care home workers and those around them.

"We value the incredible work that people in care homes have done over the last 18 months to care for some of the people who are most at risk from Covid-19," the department said in the release.

"We want to ensure that care homes are as safe as possible for the staff working in them and the people they care for.

"We believe that the best way to do this is to ensure that everyone who can take up the offer of vaccination, does."