Being 'double jabbed' provides resident protection - and exciting new opportunities for the workforce
As of Thursday 11 November, all care workers in the UK are required by law to have received at least two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. While this has sadly led to a minority of care workers leaving the sector, the policy has equally acted to protect and reassure the 500,000 care home residents the nation houses against the threat of the pandemic.
And this in turn is just one of the many factors that is making the industry attractive to new employees – many of whom have had no previous experience of working in care at all.
One recent joiner to the care sector is Nanako Nakamura, who has worked as a care assistant at Cecil Court care home in Kew, Richmond since May 2021. She took the decision to start working in care during the pandemic having previously worked in retail.
"I spent 16 years as Head of the Silver department at a luxury lifestyle shop in Mayfair," Nanako explained. "I loved working in a team environment and we felt like we were creating something very special for our clients."
But then the Covid-19 pandemic started. The business Nanako worked for went into administration, and consequently, all staff were made redundant. She realised it was time for something new.
"I'd been interested in doing something in the care sector as a volunteer," Nanako explained, "but had never had the time to do so. I'd also felt as though I had had my time in the retail sector. It was a natural choice, therefore, for me to go for a job in care."
Despite her lack of experience, Nanako was welcomed into Cecil Court with open arms. She was immediately put onto a professional training course and received help and support from colleagues, along with a full and thorough induction process.
And it hasn't taken long for Nanako to get into the swing of things as a result.
"A typical day for me for me sees me given a handover meeting first thing to see if there's any issues I need to be aware of and which floor I am to be assigned. It's then periods of offering personal care interspersed with breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and supper for the residents. In between times I'll assist residents with any activities they are taking part in, as well as take the time to chat and spend time getting to know the residents better.
"I love the fact that we help the residents the whole time. What we do really matters, and I get real satisfaction when they say 'Thank you' for the support we offer.
"I especially enjoy singing with residents. Some remember all the lyrics to certain songs, which I fail to do!"
And Nanako is encouraging others to follow in her footsteps and seek a job in care.
"You'll learn a lot about being human," she adds, "and realise life is so precious. I am glad I chose to do it."
Another employee who knows all about entering the care sector during the pandemic is Jihyun (J) Cho.
For many years, J worked as a translator of English books into her native Korean.
“I worked for a romantic novels publisher at first, where it probably took me a couple of months to translate each book.” J explains.
“When I had my daughter in 2007, I switched to becoming a freelancer – maybe completing translations of two or three books a year.”
“I love a good book – especially romance and history. Translating was a great job as you could understand a bit more about what is behind the book. You can interpret in so many ways. I loved the ability to introduce people to this ‘other world’ in the book.
Five years ago, J left her native Korea to come to England. Her ageing parents-in-law required help around the home, and J took the opportunity to move over and learn a new life in a different society. Initially, the translations continued.
“One of my favourite pieces of work after moving here was to translate the autobiography of (US Vice President) Kamela Harris. She’s really inspirational to me as the first female vice-president, especially as someone from a minor race. It was a good book to read and to be able to share with my own country.
“Then the pandemic started, and gradually work dried up. I found it harder to get more roles as I found places wanted translators who were native English and Korean speakers, not the other way round. I wanted to go out and find a role for myself.”
Having by this stage spent nearly three years looking after her father-in-law, who lives with dementia, J decided to put this ‘training’ to good use and, in November 2020, started her current role as a casual care assistant at Compton Lodge care home in Camden, North London. It was the first time she had formally worked in a care environment.
“I started with some manual handling, which quickly helped me get the idea of the role. My biggest concern was with making any mistakes, especially with the strict procedures that have been introduced in the wake of the pandemic. But Compton Lodge has a great team, and I could talk with colleagues who reassured me that I was doing a good job.
“I’m really happy in my job. Being a member of a team who helps society, being able to provide the help that people need, makes me feel good.
“For somebody who wants to make themselves useful and who is looking to help other people, it’s one of the greatest jobs you could have. The people here really depend on us for support, so I’m a bit of the puzzle that helps everyone in the home to thrive.”
Sharon Bye, Director of Care at C&C, said that the double-vaccination law was "absolutely the right thing to do" to help protect both residents and colleagues at a time where Covid-19 remains a significant threat.
"It's been well documented that the care sector was woefully under-supported at the start of this pandemic. But at C&C we swiftly installed our own management plan in order to minimise Covid-19 in our homes, while also calling on the Government to reintroduce safe visiting procedures at the earliest possible opportunity. In time, the Government implemented our calls for safe visiting such as in outdoor 'pods', delivered a strong quality of PPE stock, and prioritised care home residents for the vaccine.
"More recently, the Government has been equally correct to ensure that those who regularly come to the homes – not just frontline care staff but food suppliers, contractors and activities co-ordinators too – have been vaccinated to give the homes the best possible chance of keeping Covid out.
"Aside from the early few months, care homes have in fact had significantly less excess deaths then have been recorded at home or in hospital. This policy helps to keep things that way. While C&C did lose a small number of excellent colleagues who refused to be double-vaccinated, which we hugely regret, we have had plenty of time to look for new and valuable members of our staff team and we are excited to welcome them to the C&C family.
"Like Nanako and J, we are particularly excited that this includes people who have never worked in care before. There's a real opportunity at this moment to continue to attract new people into the sector and to support them to embark on a fantastic career in care."