More than a third of care home staff in Peterborough not vaccinated against Covid-19

More than a third of care home workers in the Peterborough area have not yet been vaccinated against Covid-19, according to latest figures, as one local care provider makes it compulsory for staff and the Government considers making it law.

Sunday, 28th March 2021, 4:23 pm
Care home vaccinations. Photo: PA EMN-210325-095458001

Leading care home operator Barchester Healthcare, which has 10 homes in the Peterborough area, has already set the wheels in motion for its employees, setting an April deadline for its staff to take up COVID-19 vaccinations.

The Department of Health and Social Care has said that while vaccination was not compulsory it was “strongly recommended that all frontline social care workers who can receive a vaccine choose to take it”.

Health secretary Matt Hancock confirmed that ministers were looking at making jabs compulsory for care home staff across England, but said “no final decision” had been taken.

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The plans have emerged amid concerns over a low uptake among workers in elderly care homes in the country – with NHS data revealing a quarter (24 per cent) had not been by March 14 – the latest available figures.

The picture was different in Peterborough, where 880 out of 1,374 eligible staff, including agency workers, had received a first dose – meaning 36 per cent have not had a jab.

That proportion had gone down from the previous week when it was 38 per cent.

Across the East of England, 26 per cent of eligible care home workers had not been vaccinated by mid-March.

Care home staff were among the top four priority groups to be offered the vaccine by February 15, according to the Department for Health and Social Care.

Barchester Healthcare runs Longueville Court Care Home in Peterborough, Hampton Grove in Hampton Vale, Werrington Lodge, Braeburn Lodge in Deeping St James, Tixover House in Rutland, Chater Lodge in Stamford, The Cedars and Wood Grange in Bourne, Rose Lodge and Hickathrift House in Wisbech.

The company has told residents and their families: “We are delighted that the majority of our residents and patients have been vaccinated.

“With regard to our staff, we have been working hard to ensure that they take decisions in an informed way and we have provided them with a great deal of supporting information, including webinars with Professor Nicola Stonehouse, a renowned virologist, providing her independent expert opinion on a wide range of vaccine related questions and as a result, almost all staff have either had the vaccine or are now preparing for it, which, as you know, is being delivered to social care staff as a priority.

“Following staff engagement and a full risk assessment, we have introduced a new policy in which we expect all staff to have had the vaccine by April 23, 2021, although we are prepared to delay that date if there is any data regarding safety, efficacy or effect on transmission which requires further review.”

The company has set out a number of “acceptable exemptions”, including, at this stage, pregnancy, and said exempted staff will operate with enhanced PPE.

Barchester adds: “It is important also to say that we fully respect the decisions that individuals make and if someone chooses not to accept the vaccine we respect that decision. However, we take our responsibility for the care of our residents and patients very seriously and believe this is the approach to give them the utmost protection.

The care home operator added: “Our long-term ambition is that all patient and resident-facing staff will have the COVID-19 vaccine in order to protect both themselves and the vulnerable residents and patients in our care. We are very aware of concerns around possible discrimination which is in no way our intention. We are doing everything possible to ensure fairness whilst also delivering on our duty to protect our residents, patients and staff.”

The Telegraph first reported the government’s plans to make vaccinations mandatory after obtaining leaked details of a paper submitted to the “Covid O” sub-committee of Cabinet.

Asked about the proposal, Mr Hancock told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “That sort of approach is already in place for doctors, they have to have the hepatitis B vaccine, and so there’s already a clear precedent and there’s a duty of care that people have if you work in an elderly care home.”

He added: “There’d be a change in the law required, and so this is something that we’re considering but we haven’t made a final decision on, and we do want to hear from care homes and indeed care home staff, on this question.”

Trade union UNISON said proposed mandatory vaccines “smack of a bygone age or of authoritarian regimes”.

General secretary Christina McAnea said: “Everyone wants the pandemic over and vaccinations are the route to normality, but turning the clock back to Victorian times by forcing care workers to be jabbed isn’t the way.

“All those who can have the vaccine should. But the key to getting the numbers up is for employers, unions and the government to work together.

“Instead of leaping to the law, ministers could start by putting the funds behind a targeted advertising campaign aimed at care staff.”

She added: “Nervous staff need extra time. They must be encouraged to talk to colleagues who’ve had their jab and be persuaded there’s nothing to fear.”

Nadra Ahmed, chairman of The National Care Association, which represents care providers, said “cultural reasons” were among the factors behind some care home workers not taking up the vaccine.

She also said anti-vax campaigns along with concerns raised over the AstraZeneca vaccine had not helped the cause.

She said: “We support the view that all care home staff should take up the option of the vaccine, however to make it compulsory at this moment in time might not be the right way forward.

“We should be ensuring they have access to the vaccinations, and all the information they want, so they can make an informed choice.”