Is the health and social care sector entering a new lockdown in the form of mandatory vaccinations?

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.

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The continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic – a staffing crisis in the care sector

As at 5 January 2022, over 11,000 care home workers were reported to have been off work due to COVID-19. Over 90 care home operators in England have declared a “red” alert, meaning staffing ratios have been breached. Care Forum Wales reported that up to 75% of care staff are currently off work. Appeals to the Welsh Government have been made by numerous care homes for a significant increase in PPE to address this. This is a major problem with clear consequences for care standards. However, staff absence due to self-isolation is not the only pandemic-related issue likely to impact staffing levels.

Reduced staffing levels will negatively impact the standard of care which remaining staff are able to provide to residents, with the potential of increasing the risk of injury and neglect due to an insufficient carer to resident ratio. Some care home operators have reportedly felt forced to allow employees with positive COVID-19 tests to continue working in order to address the risks presented by the lack of staff, which in turn presents the additional risk of transmission to elderly and vulnerable residents. It is not clear how care providers will be able to alleviate these risks, or whether further Government assistance will be provided.

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Care home visitor restrictions in wake of rising Omicron cases

Care home residents are about to once again face restrictions in the number of visitors they can have.  Only three named visitors and one essential caregiver visitor will be allowed from Wednesday 15 December.  Given that there is no official ‘lockdown’ for the rest of the country at present, these new restrictions have been criticised by charities and care trade associations, since the rest of society is free to largely socialise without restrictions.

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Care rates continue to increase, but by how much?

On 26 October 2021 the Office for National Statistics released the latest data from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE). These are provisional figures based on estimates of income from a 1% sample of workers’ HMRC records for the tax year ending 5 April 2021, and they will be revised and updated in due course as the data is finalised. The provisional data provides a steer on how the earnings across all industries are changing. Those dealing with catastrophic injury claims will be particularly interested in the data relating to care workers as the rates are directly applicable to the recalculation of existing periodical payment orders.

The latest data shows an average increase in care rates across the 60th-90th percentile of 2.6%. Practitioners will be aware that the hourly rates actually compensated within a catastrophic injury claim are typically significantly higher than those quoted in ASHE, given that ASHE covers all care workers (most of whom are state funded) whereas a catastrophic injury claim is typically compensated on the basis of a private care package which can be twice the hourly rates quoted within ASHE. That being said, the rates might offer an indication of trends in care costs generally.

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The Assisted Dying Bill: the potential regulatory implications for health professionals

On Friday 22 October, Baroness Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill progressed to the Committee Stage after being debated in the House of Lords. If enacted, it will undoubtedly be a seminal moment in healthcare law. It would permit medical professionals to lawfully prescribe end of life medication to terminally-ill adult patients of mental capacity who are reasonably expected to die within six months (and voluntarily making such a request), essentially legalising physician-assisted suicide. Although the majority of speakers were in favour of the bill, Hansard reveals how many members hold great concern for the safeguarding of vulnerable individuals and for the impact the bill may have on the public’s trust in doctors. It is therefore entirely understandable why this issue is prompting such widespread debate.

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Gardner v Secretary of State for Health and Social Care – Judicial Review Further Update

The public challenge brought by claimants Dr Cathy Gardner and Fay Harris in respect of the government’s COVID-19 hospital discharge policy reconvened on Friday, 22 October. The days’ submissions followed from the adjourned hearing on Tuesday, 19 October, reported here. This blog will explore the key issues addressed at the hearing, and consider the way forward for the claimants’ case.

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Gardner v Secretary of State for Health and Social Care – Judicial Review Update   

The judicial review of the government’s early response to COVID-19, specifically in respect of discharging COVID-19 positive patients into care homes, commenced yesterday with Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Garnham presiding. Permission for the review was granted on all grounds by Justice Linden following an appeal by the bereft claimants Dr Cathy Gardner and Fay Harris. This blog will explore the key issues addressed at the hearing yesterday.

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Report critical of the UK’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and effect on care homes

A joint report by the House of Commons All Party Health and Social Care and Science and Technology Committees says the UK’s failure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 pandemic was one of the worst ever public health failures. 

Focusing predominately on England, the report criticises delays in introducing a county wide lockdown.  The delays in dealing with the pandemic meant that certain vulnerable groups such as care home residents and people with learning disabilities were particularly susceptible to the virus, and the government did not prioritise the social care sector at the outset.  In particular the report criticises the rapid discharge of patients from hospitals into care homes.  Also lack of testing of social care staff meant that the virus could enter care homes from the community.   

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What is the UK’s legal position on compulsory vaccination?

It has been confirmed that the COVID-19 vaccination will become compulsory for staff that care for the elderly and vulnerable. In enforcing such a requirement, organisations are likely to face a number of issues and potential pitfalls, and it is important therefore to explore the key steps if you are considering introducing compulsory vaccination for staff or those deployed in the organisation.

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Judicial review of Government response to COVID in care homes: imminent hearing in England & significant developments in Scotland

Last November we reported on Mr Justice Linden’s decision to grant permission for judicial review on all grounds of the UK government’s policies and measures which had a bearing on the protection of care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The claim, which relates to patient discharge policy in England, will be heard later this month. In respect of Scotland, recently released information by public health authorities appears to acknowledge some important difficulties there in the early part of last year. This blog explores the key issues in both jurisdictions and sets the scene for the (English) judicial review later this month.

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