Further to the ongoing debate around compulsory vaccinations for care home workers, the government has now published its formal response to the public consultation Making vaccination a condition of deployment in care homes: government response - GOV.UK.
It has also published a press release confirming the decision arising from the consultation that ‘everyone working in care homes to be fully vaccinated under new law to protect residents’. Everyone working in care homes to be fully vaccinated under new law to protect residents - GOV.UK.
As a reminder, the consultation by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) ran from 14 April to 26 May 2021 and covered the proposed legislative change (whether to proceed with the policy on compulsory vaccination), the scope of the policy, who should be exempt, implementation and proof of vaccination status and the impact/implications on those with protected characteristics.
Over 13,500 responses were submitted and the formal government response provides a detailed review of the issues raised in each section of the consultation. The key points to note from the response are:
- A majority (57%) of respondents did not support the proposal, however the response notes that “there remains a strong case for introducing, in the first instance in care homes, a new requirement for vaccines” and “there is a clear public health rationale for the proposed policy”.
- The most divided group was members of the adult social care workforce, with just under half (47%) supporting the policy and half (50%) not supporting the policy.
- Whilst acknowledging that clearly opinions on the topic differ, it recommends proceeding with the proposal, as “this combination of consultation responses and clear public health evidence provides a strong foundation on which to proceed with the policy”.
- Concerns around freedom of choice were explored, although it notes the safety of people in our society who are at most at risk from Covid-19 should be the first priority and therefore “difficult decisions, balancing individual choices” must be made.
- Exemptions will be provided, where individuals have an allergy or condition that the Green Book lists as a reason not to administer a vaccine.
- 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.
Changes to the proposal set out in the original consultation:
- The government has agreed to extend the scope of the policy to all CQC-registered care homes, in England, which provide accommodation for persons who require nursing or personal care, not just those care homes which have at least one person over the age of 65 living in their home.
- The requirement to be vaccinated will be extended to include all persons who enter a care home, regardless of their role (e.g. professionals visiting a care home, such as healthcare workers, tradespeople, hairdressers and beauticians, and CQC inspectors)
From October 2021 (subject to parliamentary approval and a 16 week grace period), people working in CQC-registered care home must have had two doses of a covid-19 vaccine, unless medically exempt.
Regulations will be laid before Parliament as secondary legislation at the earliest opportunity.
Practical Guidance for employers
- Employers should continue to inform, engage and consult with staff regarding the proposed mandatory requirements for vaccination. It is likely that many employees will be concerned with the impact of this change and how this will affect their role, particularly where they have objections to the vaccine.
- When considering the mixed consultation response from adult social care respondents (those who will arguably be most affected by the changes), it is important that employers tread carefully and use the next few months wisely to prepare for the changes.
- Whilst the finer details for implementation of the policy are not yet known, employers should try to forward plan as much as possible for the introduction of the changes.
- If it is likely that staff may need to be re-deployed preparation will be key to maintain the smooth running of workforces.
- Where staff refuse to be vaccinated, seeking legal advice is recommended before taking formal action.
Extension to the wider healthcare sector
The consultation notes that it has been decided to launch a public consultation in “due course” on making Covid-19 and flu vaccination a condition of deployment in healthcare and the wider social care sector.
This seems to be a response to concerns raised in the initial consultation, that limiting this policy to older care homes will risk establishing ‘double standards’ for NHS staff and care staff.
We will continue to provide updates as further information and guidance is issued but in the meantime, for advice on specific issues, please contact Jodie Sinclair.