The UK Government has announced that people working in care homes in England must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 from October, unless they have a medical exemption.
The mandatory vaccination requirement will apply to anyone working in a registered care home providing nursing or personal care on a full-time, part-time or volunteer basis, whether employed directly by the care home provider or by an agency. Those coming into care homes to do other work including healthcare workers, tradespeople, hairdressers and Care Quality Commission inspectors must also comply with the vaccination requirements.
The announcement follows a Government consultation on mandatory vaccination for care home workers and is intended to protect residents against death and serious illness. The Government also plans to consult further on whether to extend mandatory vaccination against COVID-19 and flu to others working in health and social care settings.
The intended regulations will be brought before Parliament “at the earliest opportunity”. If approved, there will be a grace period of sixteen weeks before the regulations come into force, to allow time for staff who have not yet been vaccinated to obtain both doses required for full vaccination.
Employers in the social care sectors have been put in the difficult position of balancing the need to protect vulnerable people in their care with the rights of their employees who do not wish to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Prior to the Government announcing mandatory vaccinations for those working in care homes, these employers faced the risk of unfair dismissal claims, as well as potential claims brought on the basis of anti-vax views being a ‘protected belief’ under the 2010 Equality Act. This also raised the prospect of uncapped tribunal awards. However, mandating vaccination is likely to remove these risks as employers requiring vaccination will simply be complying with legal requirements.
In its consultation response, the Government has said that individuals with an allergy or condition listed in the Public Health England ‘green book’ will be exempt from the vaccine requirement. Those entering a care home to assist in an emergency or to carry out urgent maintenance work will also be exempt, along with people under eighteen years of age and clinical trial participants. Further guidance will be published by Government on the scope and process for granting exemptions.
The vaccination requirement will only apply to staff requiring indoor access to the premises, and will not apply to residents, friends or relatives who are visiting. The Government is looking at how those affected will be able to use the NHS app and its web-based and non-digital alternatives to provide evidence to employers of their vaccination or exemption status.
According to advice provided to the Government by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) social care working group, 80% of staff and 90% of residents in each individual care home setting must receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in order to provide a minimum level of protection against outbreaks. However, only 65% of care homes in England currently meet this target, falling to 44% of care homes in London, according to Government figures.
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