Two days before the end of the grace period for the enforcement of its new vaccination policy in care homes, the Government announced that similar requirements will be imposed across the health and wider care sector in England, with effect from 1 April 2022. The new rules will apply to both NHS and independent sector organisations undertaking activities regulated by the CQC. Their introduction will be subject to Parliament passing the necessary regulations, which will mirror those already in force in the care sector.
The response to consultation explains that these regulations will require workers who have “direct, face to face contact with service users” to provide evidence that they have been vaccinated, subject to limited exceptions. This will include “non-clinical workers not directly involved in patient care but who nevertheless may have direct, face to-face contact with patients, such as receptionists, ward clerks, porters and cleaners”. This represents a different approach to care homes, where all staff and contractors entering the building where care is provided need to prove they have been vaccinated regardless of their role, subject to relatively narrow exceptions.
The exemptions from the requirement to be vaccinated will be as follows:
- those under the age of 18
- those who are clinically exempt from COVID-19 vaccination
- those who have taken part or are currently taking part in a clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine
- those who do not have direct, face to face contact with a service user, for example, those providing care remotely, such as through triage or telephone consultations or managerial staff working in sites apart from patient areas
- those providing care as part of a shared lives agreement
The Government has decided against introducing similar requirements in relation to the flu vaccine, though of course take up will continue to be encouraged. Nor will staff be required to provide evidence that they have receive a booster dose of the vaccine, where they are eligible for this.
We understand there are currently no plans to introduce similar requirements in the rest of the UK.
In its impact statement the Government estimates that the introduction of these new requirements in England will result in an additional 27,000 workers being vaccinated – a relatively small proportion of the 1.8 million plus staff who will be subject to the new regulations. In the meantime the Government confirms that measures to encourage vaccination take up on a voluntary basis will continue over what is likely to be a challenging winter.
There are some details in the response to consultation which are not currently reflected in the regulations or operational guidance in care homes. These include a new regime for recognising overseas vaccinations, rather than relying on a self-certified medical exemption as at present. The care home requirements will be amended to align with this new approach. For the current position see our earlier blog posting here.
While vaccination take up is already significantly higher in the wider health sector than it is among workers in care homes, implementing the new rules represents a significant management challenge. It is noteworthy that in its equality impact assessment the Government acknowledges that ethnic minority staff and adherents to certain religions and beliefs are likely to be significantly impacted by the new policy because of higher levels of vaccine hesitancy in these groups. It concludes: “It is key therefore to carry out work relating to culturally, religiously, and linguistically suitable and effective communications to improve voluntary vaccine uptake.”