Earlier this week (13 July 2021) saw ministers vote to approve by 319 votes to 246 the draft Regulations (Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2021) to back plans for care home staff to be double vaccinated against Covid-19.
The Health Secretary pressed ahead with the vote despite concerns that the policy could lead to care staff shortages in the social care sector. The Regulations are expected to be signed off next week, unless the House of Lords decide not to pass them.
It is anticipated that the Regulations will come into force in early November 2021 – 16 weeks after the Regulations are passed – and apply to Care Quality Commission registered care homes in England only. This will mean that anyone entering residential accommodation providing nursing or personal care in a care home must be double vaccinated, unless they are clinically exempt or meet one of the exemptions outlined in the Green book.
While there is wide spread concern within the sector to adopting a mandatory vaccination policy, in the absence of a legal challenge, care homes across England now need to implement procedures to ensure that they are not in breach of the Regulations come November. We expect that guidance will be published shortly to support the sector with its preparation.
In this blog, we highlight some of the key steps that care providers can take to get their workforce ready:
- Inform your staff about the approved Regulations, the need for a booster vaccination expected in the autumn, and the time scales by which they need to have had the double vaccination. Inform staff that they will need to provide evidence of vaccination and let them know what forms of evidence will be accepted and when the evidence needs to be produced by. It is important that the messaging around what is required from care home staff is clear and accessible.
- Care home providers should continue to actively engage and consult with their staff, encouraging them to be vaccinated. Staff who do not provide their evidence should be informed of the risks if the evidence is not produced by the end of the 16 week period and that they may not be able to continue in their role.
- For staff who cannot produce the necessary evidence, you will need to commence consultation in good time; take into account their notice period which for some staff may be 12 weeks so some employers may need to give notice in August. You should explore with staff their reasons for not being vaccinated. Some staff may have a clinical exemption. Other staff may have valid grounds to reject the vaccine if protected by discrimination legislation, including for religious belief or health-related reasons, so allowances will need to be made for those with particular protected characteristics.
- For those staff that object to being vaccinated and where no clinical exemption or valid legal ground for objecting exists, you should discuss and explore alternatives to dismissal. Redeployment to roles outside of care homes should be considered although such roles are likely to be extremely limited. Ultimately, some care home staff are likely to be dismissed as a result of this new legislation so it is important such cases are handled carefully and sensitively. In that context, providers will need to ensure that a fair and reasonable procedure is followed to avoid legal challenge.
- Develop systems to capture and store evidence of staff vaccinations, plus the booster vaccination expected in the autumn, or any clinical exemptions or other valid legal grounds.
- Develop systems to capture and store evidence of vaccinations from visitors, or any clinical exemptions or other valid legal grounds.
- Develop systems to capture and store evidence of visitors who are exempt from the new requirements (including someone under the age of 18, someone carrying out urgent maintenance or friends/relatives of a service user who is or has been residing in the premises).
- Ensure staff who work in recruitment, HR or who will be involved in collating evidence understand the legal requirements and clinical exemptions. Update any recruitment documentation so the new requirements around vaccination are clear from the outset to job applicants.
- Update your care home policy on vaccinations.
If you require support with managing this policy transition with your HR teams do get in touch with us.