Government launches consultation on staff COVID-19 vaccines in care homes with older adult residents.
A five-week consultation has been launched in a bid to further protect care home residents who are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. The consultation is seeking views from staff, care home providers, stakeholder, residents and their families on a proposal to make vaccines compulsory, by making it a condition of employment for all staff who are deployed in care homes with older residents.
In practice and in order to achieve this, the Government is considering amending the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014, which would mean that older adult care homes could legally only deploy staff who have received the COVID-19 vaccination, unless they are exempt for medical reasons. It appears that cultural or religious objections to the vaccines will not be exempt.
In a statement released on 14 April 2021 on the proposal, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock noted that the Government has “a duty of care to those most vulnerable to COVID-19” and that it was therefore “right to consider all options to keep people safe”.
The consultation comes against the backdrop of the well-documented outbreak of COVID-19 and death toll in care homes (that we have been closely reporting on in this blog throughout the pandemic) and amid concerns that there are still a high number of older adult care homes which do not have the necessary level of protection. In particular, there seems to have been a relatively low vaccine uptake amongst care home workers, despite efforts by the Government to target this.
The press release on the consultation revealed that:
“Experts on the social care working group of SAGE advise 80% of staff and 90% of residents need to be vaccinated to provide a minimum level of protection against outbreaks of COVID-19. Only 53% of older adult homes in England are currently meeting this threshold. This means nearly half of all care homes with older adult residents, home to 150,000 vulnerable people, don’t meet SAGE’s recommended vaccination thresholds for care homes and staff.”
The proposal is however not without criticism. In particular, some unions do not agree that forcing employees to be vaccinated is the best way to achieve the overall goal of protecting care home residents. In her commentary on the proposal, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady expressed concerns that compulsory vaccines will not only “harm trust and employee relations” but may also be “be discriminatory and leave employers open to legal challenge.”
Civil liberties campaigners and the equality watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, (who have already raised uncertainty around the lawfulness of the proposed introduction of the so-called “vaccine passports”) are also likely to have concerns around these proposals.
The consultation, which closes on 21 May 2021, can be accessed here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/making-vaccination-a-condition-of-deployment-in-older-adult-care-homes
A final decision is expected by the summer.