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Following a 6-week consultation which ran from 14 April to 26 May 2021, the government confirmed on 16 June that compulsory COVID-19 vaccinations will be introduced for care home workers.
Some interesting highlights from the executive summary of the government’s outcome report include:
- Of the more than 13,500 consultation responses, overall, the consultation showed that a majority (57%) of respondents did not support the proposal
- Drilling down into the categories, the responses from the adult social care sector were mixed, with some groups, for example care home providers mostly supporting the proposed legislative change while others, such as service users and relatives of service users mostly opposed
- The majority of respondents agreed with the proposal to grant exemptions on medical grounds. There were also calls for exemptions for visiting emergency services who need to enter care homes and for women of childbearing age who are trying to get pregnant, are pregnant or are breast-feeding. There was a call for ensuring that the system for demonstrating vaccination status or exemption from vaccination is as simple and clear as possible.
- Respondents were concerned about the potential impact of the policy on staffing levels, as well as the potential for disproportionate impact on those with protected characteristics, such as pregnant women and people from particular ethnic minority backgrounds.
The legislation that will be introduced, in order to protect all care home residents who are clinically vulnerable, will require all CQC-regulated service providers of nursing and personal care in care homes in England:
to allow entry to the premises only to those who can demonstrate evidence of having had a complete course of an authorised COVID-19 vaccine or evidence that they are exempt
This will include:
- all persons who enter a care home, regardless of their role
- all staff regardless of employment status including full and part time employees and workers, agency workers and volunteers
- any professionals visiting a care home, such as healthcare workers, tradespeople, hairdressers and beauticians, and CQC inspectors
The requirement will only apply to those who need to enter the care home building and will exclude:
- friends or relatives of residents who are visiting
- persons providing emergency assistance
- those carrying out urgent maintenance work in the care home
- people who only work in the outdoor surrounding grounds of care home premises
- those under the age of 18
- clinical trial participants
- those exempt from the vaccine due to an allergy listed in the Green Book
The government is working with NHSX to explore the use of the NHS App (and its web-based or non-digital alternative) as evidence for demonstrating vaccination or exemption status.
When will the new laws apply?
Subject to Parliamentary approval, the new laws will apply from October 2021 (although there will be a 16 week grace period). The government also intends to consult on extending the requirement to make both COVID-19 and flu vaccinations mandatory in other health and care settings.
Care home providers covered by the legislation will need to keep records of vaccinations and exemptions for the purposes of CQC inspections and will undoubtedly face challenges if employees refuse to be vaccinated. If they are clearly covered by a medical exemption employers might be clear on the action to take, but what if a religious or risk reason connected to race is cited?
The government report states it intends to publish guidance to help care homes navigate what are inevitably going to be challenging and emotive subjects. Employment law risks were a common concern in the consultation response – we’ll just have to wait and see how helpful the government guidance will be.
If you need further advice on vaccine mandates or COVID-19 related employment and HR issues call us now for a friendly chat about your needs.