‘A lot of work to be done’ to encourage vaccine uptake among social care staff

Jemma Crew, PA Social Affairs Correspondent

There is “a lot of work” to be done to encourage social care staff to get a coronavirus vaccine, a care chief executive has said.

Mark Cunningham, chief executive of Heathlands Village in Greater Manchester, said about 84% of its 350 staff have had the vaccine.

But there is a cohort for whom the vaccine is not appropriate or who remain reticent.

The Government has set a deadline of February 15 to have offered the vaccine to all health and care staff.

The National Care Forum, holding a briefing to share its latest survey results, said it “appears unlikely that the target will be met across all care services”.

Its survey of members operating 1,180 care and support services throughout the country found a “significant number” of care home staff in England are yet to receive a coronavirus vaccine.

Some 38% of home care services which took part had less than 40% of their staff vaccinated, and almost a third of all services – other than care homes for older adults – had less than 40% of staff vaccinated.

Mr Cunningham said: “In terms of staff… I think you can see from the figures that there’s a lot of work to be done across social care in terms of encouraging care staff to take up the opportunity of the vaccine.

“For us it’s very much been about hearts and minds, providing people with the information and encouragement and the support to make informed decisions about the vaccine.”

He said a particular group they are working with at the moment is women who are pregnant or wishing to conceive and who have “seen the advice, but they’re still not confident enough” to take the jab.

He added: “I think there’s very few staff that are subscribing to some of the conspiracy theories that we hear about, I think there’s different opinions and different concerns and worries and we have the whole gamut of people that are needle phobic or are concerned for religious reasons, and we’re just supporting that through the process.

“For us, percentage of people, you know, completely refusing to engage is low, probably about 10% but even then I’m not entirely sure that they just haven’t reached a definitive decision yet.”

Mr Cunningham said it is about conveying the right message in the right way, noting that the recent video of Elton John taking a jab may not resonate with younger staff.

Sir Elton John in a video encouraging people to get vaccinated
Sir Elton John in a video encouraging people to get vaccinated (NHS England/PA)

Brian James, operations manager at Keychange, said its care homes are averaging an uptake of 55% among staff and up to 90% in some locations.

Some staff “haven’t necessarily seen the vaccine as a mitigation of risk, but as an addition to the risks they’re already living with”, he said.

But he said hesitancy has changed as the vaccination programme got under way.

The charity has experienced three outbreaks since Christmas Eve, with the loss of seven residents during the first outbreak.

But there has been no loss of life as a result of the following two outbreaks, which took place after residents had been vaccinated.

Vic Rayner, executive director of the National Care Forum, said the membership organisation heard this week that care staff will now be able to book vaccine appointments through the national booking service, in addition to existing access options.

She said “unblocking that access will make a big change in terms of the ability for people to get vaccinations vaccinated”.

In addition, a “significant chunk” of people surveyed are intending to have a vaccine or have a jab booked in which the NCF hopes will add to the numbers.

The NCF survey also found 28% of care homes did not allow visits over January, with those that did offering a combination of window, garden, indoor screened and indoor end-of-life visits.

Ms Rayner said: “Many care homes have continued to offer visiting throughout the pandemic, balancing risks.

“However all care homes must now be better supported to enable meaningful visiting, and the NCF, together with a number of other organisations, are calling on the Government to ensure that by March 1, essential caregivers can once again visit their loved ones in care homes.”

The NCF said much of the data covered by its survey is available to the Government through the data tracker platform Capacity Tracker, but despite “numerous and repeated requests”, access to this has not been given to care providers.

Ms Rayner said it is “totally unacceptable” that key data on staffing, outbreaks and vaccination is not being shared with providers, who cannot see the national or regional picture.

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