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Vaccines have appeared as a beacon of hope for millions of people at the highest risk of COVID-19 complications – and nowhere have they been more welcome than in the health and care sectors!

As we write, the latest stats show that:

  • Everybody in priority groups 1-9 has been offered a vaccination.
  • Across England, 91.3% of care home residents have had two doses.
  • 1% of care home workers have had one jab, and 70.2% both.

However, we can’t forget that some people can’t have the vaccine, and others have elected not to, for a wide range of social, cultural, medical or personal reasons.

New government legislation means from October, all staff in any CQC-registered care facility must have a mandatory two doses, although those with medical exemption are not included.

Let’s explore what this means and the impact of compulsory vaccination programmes on the British care sector.

The New Vaccine Rules for Social Care Professionals

While Parliament hasn’t yet approved the legislation, it seems very likely the vaccine rules will become law from October 2021.

In short, they mean that:

  • Staff providing personal or nursing support in a care home must have had two COVID-19 vaccinations (of any kind).
  • All workers employed by a care home or care agency are included, plus volunteers in a care home setting.
  • Healthcare workers who attend care homes and other contractors (such as hairdressers or tradespeople) must also be fully vaccinated.
  • Workers with a medical exemption are omitted and will not be required to have the vaccine if they have a condition that prevents this.

There will be a 16-week grace period, so any care home workers who haven’t yet received both vaccines will have time to book themselves in.

As we all know, elderly and vulnerable patients are at a substantially higher risk of becoming severely ill with the Coronavirus.

The majority of care home residents fall into a priority group, with over 90% now fully vaccinated.

Care professionals have been able to book their vaccines from early on in the rollout, although these new rules make it a legal obligation to do so, applying to around 15% of care staff who haven’t yet received any vaccine dose.

Protecting Care Home Residents Through Staff Vaccinations

The compulsory vaccines will go some way to protecting those patients who are at such significant risk.

But, what happens to valued care home staff that refuse?

As it stands, they may find themselves unable to work or being redeployed away from front-line care to a position that doesn’t involve any patient interaction.

However, the former seems more likely, since the legislation includes all ancillary staff in a care home – including administrative, housekeeping or maintenance roles.

The debate rumbles on since compulsory vaccines are a good thing in terms of patient safeguarding. Still, they may cause significant issues for care homes that already struggle to recruit and retain outstanding staff.

Several organisations have voiced concerns:

  • The British Medical Association says that compulsory vaccine laws are a ‘blunt instrument’, which ‘carries its own risks’.
  • The Chairman of the Independent Care Group, based in Yorkshire, states that they are ‘disappointed’ and foresee the potential for legal disputes.
  • Unison’s General Secretary calls for encouragement, not legislation, calling the announcement the ‘government’s sledgehammer approach’.

Critics advocate for a gentler process, explaining the benefits of vaccination and easing concerns that mean some care home staff feel reluctant to take up the vaccine offered.

Given the public nature of the announcements, we don’t imagine a U-turn ahead, despite some objections to forcing social care staff to be vaccinated, even if against their wishes.

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The Future of Mandatory Vaccinations

As yet, the legislation impacts only care homes, and so there aren’t any specific indications that the government will roll out compulsory vaccine laws elsewhere.

There are, though, some signs that this could be set to change in the future.

The Department of Health and Social Care says that it will launch an extended consultation to evaluate whether vaccine laws will apply to other social care settings and healthcare facilities.

Consultation responses have highlighted the feelings of disparity in care home workers being ‘singled out’, so this extension seems to arise from those concerns.

In the future, there are hints that COVID-19 vaccinations and winter flu jabs will be a condition of employment in a care or healthcare setting.

However, we’ve yet to see any information about how this would be regulated.

For the time being, the Public Health England data on vaccine effectiveness shows that jabs have prevented 14,000 fatalities and 42,000 hospital admissions in older people, based on statistics in England up to 30th May 2021.

Insisting on care home staff vaccinations may mean that the remaining 52,000 care home staff who haven’t been vaccinated and are eligible could further protect vulnerable patients.

 

Vaccination Support for Care Home Workers

Here at OUTT, we acknowledge the compelling power of the vaccination programme to eliminate the highest risks of COVID-19 and help make UK care homes safer places for all.

However, we also recognise that some care home professionals may have concerns about how the mandatory vaccine rules will affect their careers and future employment prospects.

If you would like further information about the vaccines available, there are several resources out there:

  • The World Health Organization advice page includes details about how the vaccines work and the safety analysis criteria for each type of vaccine being offered.
  • You can download a FAQs document from the NHS England site explaining everything from side effects to ingredients.
  • Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has a detailed list of medical conditions that impact your eligibility for vaccination.

For care home workers who are keen to get booked in well in advance of the new rules, you can book online through the NHS Booking page, which confirms that all social care workers are eligible.

Please get in touch with the OUTT team if you would like to chat about current care home vacancies, other roles in the social care sector, or any information contained in this article.