Health and social care staff legally required to get the Covid vaccine
The government launched a consultation in September seeking responses on its proposal to mandate Covid and flu vaccinations for all staff in health and social care settings in England. Despite the majority of respondents being opposed to the proposal, the government decided that vaccination is the best way to protect vulnerable people receiving care in the sector and those providing it. As such, new regulations are set to be introduced in April 2022 making Covid vaccination a condition of deployment for thousands of health and social care staff. The consultation separately considered whether the affected category of workers should also be required to have the flu vaccine. It was confirmed that this requirement will not be introduced, but the decision will be kept under review with the potential for it to become regulation at a later date if needed.
The requirement to be fully vaccinated against Covid will apply to anyone deployed to undertake a CQC regulated activity in the public (NHS) and independent health and adult social care sectors. This includes volunteers, agency workers, students and contractors, who have face-to-face contact with patients and who are directly involved in patient care. For example, doctors, nurses, dentists and domiciliary care workers who provide in-person care to those in need in their homes. They will also apply to some ancillary staff, such as porters and receptionists, who may have social contact with patients.
Medical exemptions will be given where vaccination is not clinically appropriate, for example, for individuals with pre-existing medical conditions or allergies. The government has said it will provide more detailed guidance, but it will likely follow the exemptions which are already in place for CQC regulated care homes, in line with consultation from the JCVI and the Green Book on Immunisation against Infectious Disease. Those with short-term medical conditions and pregnant workers are allowed a short-term medical exemption. For pregnant women, this exemption will expire 16 weeks post-partum. Affected staff should use the NHS Covid Pass Service to apply for a permanent medical exemption. Additionally, those who are taking part, or have previously taken part, in a clinical trial for a Covid vaccine will be exempt, as well as workers who are under the age of 18. No exemption will be given to those who refuse the vaccine due to religious beliefs.
Failure to provide evidence of vaccination or exemption must result in redeployment to non-frontline roles where this is possible, or dismissal where it is not. It is expected that there will be an increased focus on redeployment for all affected workers; dismissal should only be considered as a last case resort after exhausting all other options.
A deadline of April 2022 gives organisations time to prepare and put measures in place. It’s important a full and fair process is followed before any consideration is given to redeployment or dismissal. It is likely an SOSR (Some Other Substantial Reason) approach will be the most appropriate in this situation.