If you’ve been stuck in a care home for the duration of the pandemic, you’ll be counting the days until That First Hug. Not just the days, most likely, but every one of the hours left until a friend or family member can wrap their arms around you, and – just for a second – the horror of the past year melts away.
What a mockery yesterday’s revelation that “three in four care homes have staff refusing the jab” makes of all that pain and sacrifice. The clue is in the job title, isn’t it? In the word “care”.
Yet in a new survey, one in 10 care providers confirmed that between a quarter and a half of their employees had not been inoculated. Thirty-eight providers in the UK were questioned as part of the study, which covered 337 homes and two of the country’s largest organisations – Four Seasons and Care UK – as well as small and medium-sized members of the National Care Association. As for the reasons for declining the jab, these ranged from “concern about its safety” to “religious beliefs”, while others – deep breath… – claimed the vaccination programme was “a conspiracy”. And with Bill Gates so busy altering our DNA through microchip-containing vaccines, it’s no wonder his marriage broke down.
It’s true that most care home occupants have already been inoculated. But with clusters of the coronavirus mutation that has wreaked havoc across India in a deadly second wave having been revealed, just days ago, to be present across England and, specifically, “in care homes”, any staff member refusing the jab is straightforwardly endangering the lives of the most vulnerable: those in their “care”.
Imagine for a second if a surgeon refused to scrub up before operating, a dentist had an aversion to wearing gloves, a policeman was disinclined to apprehend criminals? Would you just shrug and say: “Well, we’re all entitled to our personal belief systems?” Now imagine that the patients and victims at the sharp end of those ‘belief systems’ aren’t faceless statistics but your mother, father, cherished family member or friend?
Care minister Helen Whately has implored “all social care staff to come forward for their jab if they haven’t already”, and the Department of Health is so concerned about the low uptake that it is currently consulting on whether to make it a compulsory condition of employment. But first every effort should be made to educate those staff members about the vaccine. Which may sound patronising, but when you have one care home manager in west London telling surveyors that among the third of his staff refusing the vaccine “one of them thought her DNA would be tampered with, another said she trusted her immunity… and another believed the virus didn’t exist and had been manufactured”, replacing misinformation with hard facts is clearly crucial.
If that means setting up a dedicated taskforce to tour UK care homes, detailing precisely how the jab works, what the real risks are and why mobile phone signals did not cause the pandemic, then that should be done as a matter of urgency. Because as Jayne Connery from the Care Campaign for the Vulnerable said yesterday: “I don’t think enough information or explanation is being given to carers, and I urge the Government to make this a priority.”
Fear and hesitancy are natural as we struggle to emerge from this waking nightmare, and alongside NHS workers, care home staff have been under unimaginable pressure during the pandemic. It’s the care home horror stories that invariably make headlines, but rarely if ever does the boundless patience and kindness of the people doing one of the hardest jobs out there get recognised.
Underpaid and overworked even at the best of times, they have borne the brunt of the Government’s early mistakes, as thousands of untested hospital patients were sent back into their care homes and left to die at the start of the pandemic. Is it any wonder many of the staff don’t trust that same Government now? And while compulsory vaccines would save lives, there is another very valid fear to consider: that implementing such a measure would leave the sector even more understaffed than it is already.
That sector illustrates all too vividly the ethical and moral dilemma that will continue to divide workplaces all over the country for months to come. But then there’s the man in the Hayward’s Heath corner shop I went into last month who – sobbing as he handed me my change – explained that he had just lost seven family members back home in Kerala. How privileged we are to have such a dilemma.
You can read Celia Walden’s column every Monday from 7pm. Click here to read last week’s column