The National Care Forum (NCF) has called on the government to reverse its decision to restrict access to the national booking system for all care staff.
The Government decided to restrict access to the National Booking Service for all care staff from April 1st. The National Booking Service allows all eligible health and social care workers to self-refer for a vaccine appointment, regardless of whether they work in the NHS or not, and has become the most direct access route for care staff, and is accessed by thousands of care staff every day. It is understood that the decision was made in light of supply issues for the vaccine. Care home staff are JCVI priority 1, and all other care staff are JCVI priority 2. All other priority groups 3 to 9 appear to remain eligible to use the service. This decision has been made immediately prior to the four-day bank holiday, with no notice and the decision only being formally communicated on Thursday evening. On the 23rd March, Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State made it clear that he felt there was a need to enforce vaccination for care staff. In the light of that intent, it seems extraordinary to then cut off the access to this formally identified priority group.
Vic Rayner, CEO of the National Care Forum – the leading association for not for profit care providers says of the decision:
“This is an unfathomable decision. The fact that the changes were announced on April Fools Day does not help the credibility of a government that on one hand says every care worker must be vaccinated, and in the same breath turns off the most accessible supply tap for those self-same workers. There seems no logic in keeping the National Booking Services open for every other priority group, yet closing it off for individual workers in JCVI priority groups 1 and 2. When the National Booking Service became available to all care workers in mid-February, the government used this to demonstrate they had made an offer of vaccination to all workers. With that in mind, then the only logical conclusion is to be clear that by taking this action the government has arbitrarily restricted access. Far from addressing any problems in the take up of vaccination amongst care staff, the government has instead created them. Our research has repeatedly shown that access to the vaccine is one of the main barriers for staff take up. With that knowledge under your belt, the decision to remove opportunities for access must swiftly and decisively be reversed.”
In addition, Rayner states:
“The timing of this is particularly unhelpful. To bring this in at the beginning of a four-day weekend, when any other routes to book and access vaccinations will be closed down seems unbelievable. Tens of thousands of care workers who could have identified opportunities to receive the vaccination this weekend will be denied. There has been no coherent communication with care organisations, meaning that the opportunity for a planned and phased approach to changes in vaccine take-up management by organisations cannot be implemented. Staff will be left bewildered by their inability to self-book, and employers will be left in despair that once again they are left holding all the cards in a vaccination agenda that for care organisations and their amazing staff increasingly feels less about joint endeavour and more about blame.”