Government makes vaccine mandatory in care homes

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced that people working in CQC-registered care homes will need to be fully Covid-19 vaccinated, with both doses, as a condition of deployment.

The decision has been published in the Government’s response to the public consultation which ran from 14 April to 21 May 2021. The consultation proposed to amend the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014.

The new legislation means that from October 2021, subject to Parliamentary approval and a subsequent 16-week grace period, anyone working in a CQC-registered care home in England for residents requiring nursing or personal care must have two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine unless they have a medical exemption.

The law will apply to all workers employed directly by the care home or care home provider, on a full-time or part-time basis, those employed by an agency and deployed by the care home, and volunteers deployed in the care home.

People coming into care homes to do other work, such as healthcare workers, CQC inspectors, tradespeople, hairdressers, and beauticians will also have to follow the new regulations, unless they have a medical exemption.

There will also be exceptions for visiting family and friends, under 18s, emergency services, and people undertaking urgent maintenance work.

Further consultation will now be launched on whether to make Covid-19 and flu vaccinations a condition of deployment in other health and care settings. The Government said responses to the consultation “made a case for extending this policy beyond care homes to other settings where people vulnerable to Covid-19 receive care, such as domiciliary care and wider healthcare settings”.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Vaccines save lives and while staff and residents in care homes have been prioritised and the majority are now vaccinated we need to do everything we can to keep reducing the risk…This is the right thing to do and a vitally important step to continue protecting care homes now and in the future. I’d urge anyone working in care homes to get their jab as soon as possible.”

This change currently only applies to England. Scotland is yet to give its stance on the matter but Wales has confirmed that it will not be mandating the Covid-19 vaccine for care home staff.

HR implications

Making the vaccine compulsory in care homes could cause significant resourcing problems for affected employers if staff choose not to have the vaccine despite the possibility that they will lose their job and possibly even their chosen career. One important consideration for employers is that, if it comes to terminating employment, a full and fair procedure will still be needed. A change in the law on vaccines in this way does not mean an exemption from normal rules on achieving a fair dismissal.

The original scope of the measure has been extended to cover all homes for residents requiring nursing or personal care; originally, the measure was set to only apply to those with at least one resident aged over 65. Employers will need to become familiar with which individuals must have the vaccine because this goes further than just those who are directly employed. As it covers agency workers and also volunteers, along with anyone who comes to the home to provide services, it is clear that this will create an extra administrative burden on employers.

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