Health and social care workers have been facing unprecedented pressures during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new wave of Omicron cases has swept across the UK causing staff shortages across the sector.
Stephen Chandler, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, has said that the care sector is currently facing a plethora of threats from staff isolation and COVID outbreaks to visiting restrictions. Moreover, the NHS is seeing a concerning number of staff shortages, which currently stands at approximately 93,000 workers. This could just be the beginning of the struggles to come across the health and social care sector in light of the mandatory vaccination regulations.
On 9 January 2021, the Department of Health and Social Care laid down regulations in Parliament which amend the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014 to provide that all employees undertaking or being hired to undertake a CQC regulated activity must have been vaccinated with a complete course of an authorised vaccine against COVID-19. In his latest blog post on mandatory vaccination, Lee Biddle (Partner at BLM) set out the self-certification process for exemption for care workers that was previously in place. He aptly noted that care home workers were able to opt-out of the mandatory vaccination by self-certifying under a temporary measure until a clinical review process was in place. Whilst this reprieve alleviated some of the pressure on an interim basis, under the amended regulations, the requirement is applicable unless you have a valid medical exemption and goes one step further, by extending to all front-line health and social care staff in the public and private sector.
The regulations that passed through Parliament and took effect on 7 January 2022 give workers a 12 week grace period to get vaccinated. The clock has now started running for healthcare professionals who have direct, face-to-face contact with service users to have been administered both doses of their vaccination by 1 April 2022. The scope under the amended regulations is broad and includes doctors, nurses, dentists, care workers, volunteers and ancillary / support staff such as porters and receptionists.
Hospitals in London and the South-East of England have come under significant pressure since Christmas as a result of the high infection rates. The NHS Nightingale hospital in London is getting ready to re-open its doors to take Covid free patients recovering from operations in an attempt to relieve the increasing demand for hospital beds in the capital. The government conducted a risk assessment in November 2021 which estimated that mandatory jabs could lead to the loss of 73,000 staff in an already underrepresented industry. The Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives are urging Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, to reconsider or, at the very least, delay the introduction of compulsory jabs out of fear that the NHS will not be able to cope with the rising pressures if unvaccinated staff are triggered to leave.
This significant change comes at a crucial time where health and social care staff play an imperative role in the country’s stability now more than ever. Greg MacDougall, Partner at BLM, has reported in his blog that a recent research study carried out by Unison in October / November 2021 showed 97% of the 1,637 employees working in care homes involved in the study were experiencing staff shortages and 67% were considering leaving the sector. These figures are only likely to grow in light of the new regulations.
It is a fairly commonplace opinion that vaccines do save lives and there is a large body of evidence to support this but a balancing act will need to take place between the public interest of saving lives by enforcing mandatory vaccinations and the public interest of saving lives by having sufficient health and social care workers to carry out their imperative role in keeping the country safe. Albeit it is not just about saving lives on the one hand we have seen the effects of Long COVID but have we really seen all the health consequences to the public as a result if the impact of COVID? Have government officials just opened Pandora’s box into the unknown of repercussions arising from mandatory vaccinations at a time where patient demand is at an all-time high?
Written by Gina Southwood at BLM (firstname.lastname@example.org)