These are the summer weeks – many colleagues working in services and the people they support and their families are on holiday so ARC’s member calls and networking events have been a little quieter than usual.
This has given us the chance, prompted by one of our members, to look ahead to the topic of vaccination boosters. Policy and decision-makers are considering what comes next and we think this will soon be a hot topic for the social care sector.
It is ARC England’s belief, supported by recent studies, that the age-based JCVI prioritisation model meant people with a learning disability received their vaccination later than they should have. In order to avoid a similar delay with booster jabs, we have written to the Department for Health and Social Care to ask them to use the learning from what we believe was the incorrect approach for people with learning disabilities in relation to the vaccination timetable. We hope this will ensure that all people with learning disabilities are allocated to priority group one when boosters come around.
Mandatory vaccination: In praise of our HR colleagues
One group for whom things are busy right now is the HR professionals who support the managers and staff working in our members’ services. The reason for this is the recent implementation of mandatory vaccination in residential care home settings.
The regulations will come into force on Thursday 11 November and for those beginning their vaccination journey, they must have their first dose by Thursday 16 September to allow the eight week gap between doses and ensure they are fully vaccinated by Thursday 11 November; the HR representatives we have been speaking with tell us that they can definitely hear the clock is ticking.
We have had many conversations with our members, DHSC colleagues and with other members of the Care Provider Alliance about the already precarious staffing situation in some services, where providers were carrying staff vacancies before and throughout the pandemic.
Providers tell us that staff who joined their organisation when the sector they had been working in reduced staffing during the pandemic are now returning to their previous jobs, because they are better paid than their role in social care.
There is, therefore, a very real concern about the effect on staffing levels of implementing mandatory vaccination and the potential, should they decide not to be vaccinated, for the loss of experienced, knowledgeable and caring people who have always had a vocational commitment to their work and to the people they support.
The extent to which this will affect providers of services for people with a learning disability autism, or both, is varied, but the coming weeks are clearly going to be a very busy time for HR professionals and the managers they support as they cope with the impact of mandatory vaccination on staffing levels and as they rework policies and procedures accordingly. Recruitment procedures and documentation also need to change to ensure that all new staff or those who could be asked to go into their residential services have had both vaccinations.
Beyond the practical challenges of resource and capacity management, there is another, less spoken about, aspect to the task of working through the difficult conversations with staff who work in registered residential settings who have chosen not to be vaccinated. Our members have told us about staff who have worked in the same house with the same supported people for twenty years or more and about the emotional impact of those relationships coming to an abrupt end.
The impact on some people with a learning disability, who may not be able to understand the reason why the staff member will no longer be supporting them and their families is going to be devastating. We have had conversations with owners, leaders and managers in organisations where staff have worked in the same location for many years about just how heart-breaking these separations are going to be for people.
Whilst it will be important to monitor the impact of mandatory staff vaccination on staffing levels and capacity as we work through these conversations in the coming weeks, we should also remember that behind each number is a person whose life is changing irrevocably – for some in a truly profound and distressing way – and we will need all our communication skills and compassion as we navigate these difficult conversations.
The often unsung HR professionals who are leading during this difficult stage of the pandemic are going to need all our support, so this blog has been written for you in an effort to draw attention to the vital work you will be doing in the coming weeks.
To offer some practical help, ARC has published an example Vaccination Policy that which can be downloaded and adapted to ensure that providers have an organisational policy in place as they work through difficult conversations with staff. The policy has been checked and cleared by friend of ARC England Rob Tice at employment law specialists BMcPrecept;. Rob is able to provide direct case management advice and support should providers need it.
These resources at Public Health England include content that can be used to help discussions with staff who are basing their decision to choose not to be vaccinated on incorrect information or a poor understanding of the issues.
Clive Parry, ARC England Director