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Carer shortage fears after Herne Bay homes forced to lay off unjabbed staff


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Care firm bosses forced to lay off unvaccinated staff because of new government rules fear the move will exacerbate massive worker shortages.

Larry Berkowitz, who heads St Brelades and the Cumberland care homes in Herne Bay, is concerned he will struggle to fill the vacancies created by axing two employees earlier this month.

Larry Berkowitz runs the Cumberland Care Home in Beltinge Road, Herne Bay
Larry Berkowitz runs the Cumberland Care Home in Beltinge Road, Herne Bay

He was forced to let them go prior to the introduction of measures earlier this month making it a condition of employment for those working in care homes to be double-jabbed.

Despite supporting the move, he says his businesses are struggling to recruit.

“It’s worrying. We would get 30 applications a month, now it’s like two or three,” Mr Berkowitz said.

“It’s a combination of a lot of things. Brexit’s one factor, and people are a bit nervous applying for jobs right now during Covid as they’re trying to avoid contact.

“But mandatory jabbing’s made numbers even smaller because a lot of carers are refusing to get the vaccine still.”

Herne Bay care home boss Larry Berkowitz has resorted to using agency staff for “the first time in 50 years”
Herne Bay care home boss Larry Berkowitz has resorted to using agency staff for “the first time in 50 years”

Mr Berkowitz has resorted to using agency staff for “the first time in 50 years”, as numerous other services across the county resort to the same measure.

While the cut-off date for care homes in England was November 11, firms offering domiciliary services do not have to enforce the inoculation rule until the beginning of April.

And Mr Berkowitz says this has prompted many vaccine refusers to switch their allegiances to companies offering at-home support.

“I do think mandatory jabbing is a good thing, but the way they’re going about it is a bit silly because in some sections of the care industry it’s still not mandatory,” he explained.

“If it was mandatory throughout care, then carers would have no choice. But they’re just shifting around now.

“I’ve heard other homes are needing to use a lot more agency staff now.”

But despite the delayed deadline for domiciliary staff, Margate-based Prepare4Care, which has more than 100 elderly clients across the Thanet and Canterbury districts, has had similar issues.

Managing director Sarah Jane Massaro has been unable to fill five vacancies over the last year, and expects to lose four more workers who are refusing inoculations in the spring.

Government figures show 84% of domiciliary care workers have had their first dose, with 75% having had both injections.

“We’ve also had multiple people say they won’t apply because of this. We cannot get staff,” Ms Massaro added.

Prepare4Care managing director Sarah Jane Massaro is concerned about filling staff vacancies at her Margate firm
Prepare4Care managing director Sarah Jane Massaro is concerned about filling staff vacancies at her Margate firm

“I’ve been in care over 20 years, and this is the worst I’ve seen staffing levels.

“Ten years ago, you could put one position out and have 100 people apply for it and fill it within two days.

“Now, I’ve got five vacancies I haven’t been able to fill for a year.”

Ms Massaro, who remains unjabbed, also anticipates not being able to see clients herself once the new measures are in place in four months’ time.

She claims the government restrictions have turned the UK into a “dictatorship”.

When health secretary Sajid Javid announced the April date for NHS and domiciliary care workers, he said: “Vaccines save lives and patient safety is paramount.

“Many of the people being treated in hospitals or cared for at home are the most vulnerable to Covid-19. We have a responsibility to give patients and staff the best possible protection.

“We have consulted closely with the sector and will introduce new regulations to ensure people working in healthcare are vaccinated from next spring.

“I want to thank everyone who works in health and social care for the amazing work they do.

“If you haven’t come forward for your jab yet, please do so.”

A Kent County Council spokesman told KentOnline that the authority has seen “minimal impact” from the new rules.

The authority's cabinet member for adult social care and health, Clair Bell, added: "Covid, increasing costs, and the ongoing challenge of attracting and retaining staff, are combining to put the care sector under unprecedented pressure nationally this winter – and Kent, the UK’s largest county, is not immune.

“Robust plans have been put in place to manage these pressures locally and we are working to ensure the most vulnerable residents in our communities receive the care they need and deserve."

‘I’ll have to quit my job to look after my dad’

A personal trainer will have to quit her job to care for her severely ill father – after being refused help from a number of services.

George Thomas Weakner, 85, is set to return to his Whitstable home this week, having been admitted to the QEQM Hospital in Margate last month with sepsis and pneumonia.

Josie Blackett on left with her late mum, sister and dad
Josie Blackett on left with her late mum, sister and dad

But daughter Josie Blackett, from West Malling, says she has been unable to secure domiciliary care for her dad, who has COPD, lung cancer and is unable to walk.

“After the first wave of Covid, there’s absolutely no way I’m putting him in a care home,” she said. “He wants to go home, but there are no care packages available. There is a waiting list, but it’s endless.

“I’m going to have to give up my job (as a personal trainer and PA) to move in with him.

“There will be nobody to help. I will have to advertise on Facebook to find somebody who wants a little extra money for Christmas.”

A snap national poll by the Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) revealed more than 1.5 million hours of commissioned home care could not be provided between August and October because of a lack of staff.

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