People working in care homes will need to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced.
The new legislation means from October, 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.
It 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.
Those coming into care homes to do other work, for example, healthcare workers, tradespeople, hairdressers and beauticians, and CQC inspectors will also have to follow the new regulations, unless they have a medical exemption.
Health bosses said there will be exceptions for visiting family and friends, under 18s, emergency services and people undertaking urgent maintenance work.
The 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.
Based on this evidence, the government will launch a further public consultation in due course on whether or not to make Covid-19 and flu vaccination a condition of deployment in health and care settings.
This is a complex issue and the government is looking for a wide range of perspectives from across the health and care sector about whether this should be introduced and how it could be implemented.
Social care lawyers Royds Withy King have warned that the decision will see care providers facing no option but to dismiss significant numbers of staff, further deepening the sector’s staffing crisis.
James Sage, employment partner and head of social care at Royds Withy King said: ‘There is increasing evidence towards the efficacy of the government’s vaccine programme, and it is perhaps understandable why the government is set to make the vaccine mandatory for care home staff.
‘However, the government does not seem to have considered the catastrophic implications for staff retention and recruitment in the sector. “Vaccine take-up by care staff varies across England.
‘Nationally 80.4% of care home staff have had the vaccine, but recent data also indicates that 76 of 149 local authority areas do not have 80% of care home staff vaccinated, 17 local authority areas have less than 70% vaccinated and the lowest rate of uptake is 52.4%.
‘The government believes that those who choose not to take the vaccine can be redeployed, an approach adopted by the NHS, but that is simply not possible in the care sector.
‘This decision will leave care providers with no option but to dismiss, on average, 20% of their workforce, and for some providers it would be significantly more.
‘The prospect of losing such a significant proportion of care home staff when the sector is already facing a jobs crisis, with over 100,000 existing vacancies, increased restrictions on overseas recruitment, and growing demand for staff from retail, hospitality and leisure sectors emerging from lockdown, is unthinkable.’
Data from Public Health England indicates the Covid-19 vaccination programme has so far prevented 14,000 deaths and around 42,000 hospitalisations in older people in England (up to 30 May).
The new regulations follow an extensive consultation with the social care sector, staff, residents and their families on the issue.
The Social Care Working Group of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) advises an uptake rate for one dose of 80% in staff and 90% in residents in each individual care home setting is needed to provide a minimum level of protection against outbreaks of Covid-19.
While the majority of care home workers have now been vaccinated, only 65% of older care homes in England are currently meeting the minimum level of staff uptake for one dose needed to reduce the risk of outbreaks in these high-risk care settings, falling to 44% of care homes in London.
Dr Pete Calveley, CEO of Barchester, said: ‘We believe that we should all do whatever possible to protect the most vulnerable of society, therefore we welcome the Government’s proposal to require everyone working in a care home to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
‘We took the decision in February that staff working in a Barchester care home or hospital must be vaccinated and we have carried out extensive engagement programmes with staff, as well as 1-1 support to encourage this.
‘As a result, we are seeing strong uptake and positive engagement with Covid-19 vaccination, and we are delighted that the outcome is that 99% of our staff are willing to have the vaccine.’
Regulations will be laid before Parliament as secondary legislation at the earliest opportunity.
If approved by Parliament, there will be a 16-week grace period from when the regulations are made to when they come into force to enable staff who haven’t been vaccinated to take up the vaccine. A majority of adult social care staff will be eligible for their second dose 8 weeks after their first.
People may not yet have taken up the offer of a vaccine for a number of reasons including availability, being within 28 days of having COVID-19 or for personal reasons.
Health 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.
‘Through our consultation, we have listened to the experiences and concerns of providers and people living and working in care homes to help shape our approach.
‘We have a responsibility to do all we can to safeguard those receiving care including in the NHS and so will be consulting further on whether to extend to other health and social care workers.
‘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.’
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