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Care providers have reacted with fury at the mandatory vaccine policy U-turn, amid revelations that they were forced to leave residents in beds and restrict visitors because they lost staff.

The Telegraph revealed that compulsory Covid shots for NHS and social care workers are set to be scrapped, following warnings of crippling staff shortages across the sector if the plan went ahead.

About 40,000 care workers were either sacked or quit in the wake of the mandatory jab policy, meaning that workers in the embattled sector, which was already facing a recruitment and retention crisis, feared it to be on the brink of collapse.

Care home managers on Monday expressed their “frustration” and concerns that the sector has been the “guinea pig” for mandatory vaccines in light of the U-turn.

Warning of the toll the staffing crisis has taken on residents and relatives, providers also claimed that they have been “forced” to make decisions on restricting visitors as well as how to provide care, and choose between “What do we have to do? And what would be nice to do?”

Anita Astle, the managing director of the Wren Hall nursing home in Selston, Nottinghamshire, lost about seven staff out of 148 in total as a result of the vaccines policy.

She said: “It’s so frustrating. We’ve lost good staff for what? What has it achieved? It wasn’t drastic, but these were really good, valuable staff. We didn’t want to lose them. It’s just so irritating. Social care leaders were highlighting this would be a problem. We responded to the Government’s consultation, said what our views were, and we were just ignored.”

A timeline of NHS compulsory jabs

She added: “We weren’t fully staffed at any point. We always knew we had a shortfall of staff. And that shortfall has had an impact on how we deliver care. Even if we were fortunate enough to recruit from agency staff, the care’s still not going to be the same because those agency staff won’t know the people living in our home like the staff will.”

Giving examples of how this impacted residents, Ms Astle said: “We didn’t have sufficient staff because staff were isolating at short notice, we were unable to bring in agency staff, and therefore, people that would normally have got up for a couple of hours in the daytime – because they can only tolerate being up for two hours a day – we weren’t physically able to get them out of bed to bring them to the loungers, because we didn’t have the staff to do that.

“That’s an example of what may happen in care homes if we haven’t got the staff, because you start to make the decisions on what you can do, you start to prioritise care delivery. So, what do we have to do? And what would be nice to do? These people I’m talking about are totally dependent, so they’ll need two staff to house them, they’ll sit in a profiling chair that supports their posture.”

Asked if care homes were forced to make getting residents out of bed a luxury, Ms Astle replied: “Yeah, but that is what we’ve been forced to do to make that decision. It’s because there’s less staff available. So we’ve got to prioritise, what do we need to do? And what can’t we do? These are the challenges we’ve been faced with.”

Care home staff by vaccine status

The legal requirement for care home staff to be fully vaccinated came into effect last November. An estimated 40,000 people lost their jobs over the policy. Under the new rules, they are expected to be able to return to work in the sector.

Meanwhile, the vaccine requirement for NHS workers was meant to come into force this April – making this Thursday, Feb 3, the last day on which staff could get their first jab in order to be fully vaccinated in time.

Geoff Butcher, the chief executive of Blackadder Corporation Ltd, which owns residential and care homes for the elderly, said that he was forced to restrict visitor numbers on a first-come, first-served basis as a result of staffing shortages.

He runs six homes, comprising 210 residents and lost up to 10 per cent of his staff as a result of the mandatory vaccination policy.

Last week, the Government eased social care visiting restrictions – permitting “unlimited” numbers – following the success of the booster programme. However, Mr Butcher described this as a “lunatic announcement” and said he is continuing with a total number of visiting slots per day, which friends and family can book on to.

He said: “Visiting is a big overhead on staff. We have to test people, visitors, escort them into the building, its a draw on staff time and equally from a risk assessment point of view.

“There are a number of things at play: the staffing shortage, the mandatory vaccination policy which lost staff and impacted recruitment, and the number of staff isolating because of Covid.”

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, is meeting fellow ministers on the Covid-Operations Cabinet committee on Monday to rubber-stamp the decision on the about-turn.

Prof Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England, said: “Unfortunately, there is no level playing field between the NHS and social care. The care home sector was used as a guinea pig for an ill-thought-out policy, yet it was imposed with little support or understanding. 

“Even if mandatory vaccination is revoked for the care home sector, it is simply too late. The harm has been done in terms of the loss of staff and expense. These mixed messages are unacceptable. The NHS and social care are meant to be one system but evidently, the Government gives priority to the NHS.”

The Department for Health and Social Care was contacted for comment.

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