One in five care home staff not jabbed as sector calls for health chiefs to identify 'barriers' preventing uptake
HEALTH chiefs must tackle the "barriers" that have led to one in five care home staff not being vaccinated against Covid-19, a group representing the sector has warned.
Pauline Shepherd, chief executive of The Independent Health and Care Providers (IHCP), said while her organisation is opposed to mandatory jabs - as is the case in England - she believes more should be done to encourage uptake, particularly among young female staff.
There are more than 30,000 employees working across private nursing and care homes in Northern Ireland, of which Ms Shepherd confirmed 20 per cent were not inoculated.
She revealed the IHCP was working with the Public Health Agency (PHA) and the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) watchdog to target those homes with reduced uptake.
But she expressed frustration that due to data protection she was unable to access information on the affected facilities.
Ms Shepherd also called for more face-to-face visits to homes, as opposed to the PHA "ringing round" them.
"I know there are some care homes that are 100 per cent vaccinated but the worrying thing is that means there are some less than 80 per cent," she told The Irish News.
"I think we should be trying to identify what the barriers area and encourage this last group of people to take up the vaccine. So I do think we should try other alternatives before going down the mandatory route - as we'll end up losing staff when we can't afford to.
"What I have said to the PHA and the RQIA is that we should should be sitting down and talking with the staff who haven't been vaccinated, asking what is wrong.
"I've been asking both organisations for months if we can do this, especially if the homes affected are members of our group. They won't give the information for data protection reasons. But if data protection gets in the way of common sense, I think we should find a way around it."
The care home chief said their research showed the majority of those unvaccinated in the sector were young women "worried about pregnancy and fertility" due to "myths and misinformation" on social media.
Meanwhile, visitors to care homes in the Republic are now required to show Covid vaccine passports or proof of immunity.
Ms Shepherd said did she did not support the extension of a similar move in the north, and instead supports the increased use of lateral flow tests before family visits.
She added: "There's probably going to come a time when we're going to say, you cannot eliminate Covid getting into a nursing home no matter what you do. It's about having all those protections and having everyone up to date as far as possible."
A PHA spokeswoman said it has been been working closely with the Department of Health, five trusts, RQIA and care home managers to deliver Covid boosters to residents and staff, as well as "encouraging staff to get their first and second vaccine if they have not done so already".
She added the agency "engages directly" with those care facilities with lower vaccine uptake.