This week the government launched a five-week consultation on a proposal to introduce compulsory vaccination in older adults care settings. This would mean care providers could only use staff who have received the COVID-19 vaccination ‘or those with a legitimate medical exemption’ in those settings. They’re also consulting on whether to extend this to include other professionals who visit the care home, such as NHS workers providing close personal care to residents.
The deadline for responding to the consultation is Friday 21 May 2021.
The consultation paper states that the Social Care Working Group of SAGE has advised that a vaccination uptake rate of 80% in staff and 90% in residents in each individual care home setting would be needed to provide a ‘minimum level of protection against outbreaks of COVID-19’. The reality is many are falling short of this (although the statistics for residents exceeds this target). It adds that ‘As a result, there are still a high number of older adult care homes which are not yet achieving the level of protection needed as advised by SAGE to reduce the risk of outbreak. Therefore, there remains a strong case for introducing a new requirement in order to make very high-risk environments as safe from the devastating effects of COVID-19 as possible.’
The changes would be implemented through an amendment to the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regs 2014 by including this requirement as a new provision in the fundamental standards in Part 3 of the Regulations. The government would also amend the Code of Practice on Infection Prevention and Control. The proposed amendment covers ‘all staff employed directly by the care home provider, those employed by an agency, and volunteers deployed in the care home’. It includes not only those providing direct care, but also those undertaking ancillary roles such as cleaners and kitchen staff. In addition to considering whether this should be extended to professionals who visit to deliver personal care, the government are also considering extending it to visitors such as hairdressers, visiting faith leaders and ‘essential care givers’ – friends or family who have agreed with the care home that they will visit regularly and provide personal care. They do not propose extending it to friends and family visitors (unless they are providing essential care).
In terms of permitted exemptions, they’re proposing that this will apply to a small number of people where the clinical advice is that the COVID-19 vaccination is not suitable for them. The government are currently looking into the ‘least burdensome’ way for people to demonstrate to their employers that they are medically exempt from vaccination. It’s proposed the policy would be reviewed if significant obstacles would prevent eligible workers from accessing vaccination in a timely and accessible way, such as due to vaccine supply issues or changes in national clinical guidance. For example, if supply issues make it impossible for a member of staff to access a vaccination within a reasonable travelling distance, the requirement will not apply to that individual until the supply issue is resolved. Care home managers would be responsible for checking evidence that workers deployed in the home are vaccinated, or medically exempt from vaccination. The government are also looking at the best way for employees to provide evidence of vaccination (this is part of the vaccination status certification review). The government announcement warns that they intend to change the law quickly due to the importance of the issue.
What does this mean for care providers?
This development will be welcomed by many in the care sector who have been waiting for a government steer on whether they should go down a compulsory route. Others may be concerned at the potential impact on their ability to retain and recruit staff.
If you’re a care service owner who is considering creating a vaccination policy for your business, it would be sensible to hold off until we know the results of this consultation and see the resulting legislation to ensure your policy is legally compliant.
If you’ve got any questions about how a compulsory vaccination stance in care could affect your business, you can call our 24/7 advice line on 0345 844 4848.