Decision to close National Booking System for care staff vaccines must be reversed, leaders warn

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Care leaders are urging the government to reverse its decision to close the National Booking Service for all care staff who haven’t had their COVID-19 vaccinations.

The decision was made on April 1, immediately prior to the four-day bank holiday, with no advance warning given to providers, according to the National Care Forum (NCF).

It came after Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed that the government is looking at the possibility of enforcing vaccination for care staff.

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In light of this, the NCF said it seems “extraordinary” to cut off the access to this formally identified priority group.

CEO Vic Rayner said: “This is an unfathomable decision. The fact that the changes were announced on April Fool’s 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.

“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.”

Before the introduction of the National Booking System, accessing vaccinations proved problematic for many healthcare staff who work outside the NHS, with local councils struggling to compile a database of who to vaccinate.

In January, data from United Kingdom Homecare Association (UKHCA) showed that 32% of home care staff in England had been vaccinated, but there was a substantial variation in vaccination rates within and between local authority areas.

Rayner continued: “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.”

UKHCA is also urging the government to reopen the National Booking System for care staff.

In a recent blog post, policy director Colin Angel and CEO Dr Jane Townson said: “UKHCA is concerned about the potential impact of closure of the National Booking Service on social careworkers. This decision will almost certainly result in lower uptake of vaccination among some groups of careworkers, simply because they are unable to access vaccination appointments easily, or at all.

“We urge NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care to re-open the National Booking Service for social careworkers.”

NHS England and the DHSC have been contacted for comment.

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Sarah Clarke

The author Sarah Clarke