Covid: Around 500 care workers in North Yorkshire could lose jobs over compulsory vaccines
Around 500 care workers in North Yorkshire could be forced out of their jobs when compulsory vaccines come into force in November as the sector continues to struggle with severe staffing shortages.
From 11 November, it will become a legal requirement for all staff working in care homes to be fully vaccinated against Covid - unless they are exempt - in order to protect the elderly and vulnerable residents most at risk from the virus.
Health officials in North Yorkshire say they are supportive of this but are calling for the rules to also be applied to NHS staff to avoid what they fear will be a wave of care workers quitting their jobs to join the health sector.
Speaking at a meeting on Tuesday, councillor Michael Harrison, executive member for adult services and health integration at the county council, said: "If nothing changes, quite simply there will be around 500 people currently working in North Yorkshire's care sector who will no longer be able to do so.
"It will be illegal to employ them and that would be a terrible shame.
"This is a consequence which needs to be avoided so we are lobbying government at the moment.
"That said, I am a full supporter of mandatory vaccinations and it does disappoint me that there are so many people working in the sector who are refusing to be vaccinated."
There are currently 8,967 care staff working in North Yorkshire, both at the county council and at private companies.
Of those, a total of 494 have refused vaccines, representing 5.5% of the workforce.
Health officials have insisted they are making progress on bringing these numbers down, but the looming 11 November deadline comes at a time when the sector is also facing surging demand and serious recruitment issues with around 1,000 jobs currently vacant.
Councillor Harrison said: "It is fair to say that the workforce in adult care has quite simply started to evaporate in recent weeks. Even this month we have seen a 70% drop in applications for vacant positions."
The staffing situation has also led to warnings from the Independent Care Group which has said an army of volunteers could be needed to avoid a “winter meltdown” in staff numbers.
Mike Padgham, chair of the non-profit organisation which provides care services in North Yorkshire and York, said: "The staffing crisis is now so bad that providers are battling day to day to cover shifts both in homes and in looking after people in their own home.
"Many say it is the worst they have known in more than 30 years and so we need urgent action now before the added pressures of winter turn this into a total meltdown.”
Mr Padgham has also previously spoken of his "dismay" over compulsory vaccines, saying the government is creating another barrier to recruitment and "forcing people to do something against their will".
Health Secretary Sajid Javid last month urged care workers to book their vaccine appointments as soon as possible with the "grace period" ending on 11 November.
How many, or how few, staff choose to do so could well determine how well care homes cope in the coming months.
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter