Mandatory vaccinations and medical exemptions of care home workers – government u-turn or a temporary reprieve?

It has recently been reported that care home workers are able to opt-out of the mandatory COVID-19 vaccination requirement by self-certifying that they are medically exempt.

Thursday 16 September 2021 was meant to be the deadline for all carers to have received their first COVID-19 vaccination. This mandatory vaccine requirement for all care home staff has been a source of constant debate since it was announced, with growing concerns that a significant number of care homes may be forced to close and thousands of staff from an already depleted workforce risked losing their jobs if they declined to have the vaccine. The government has been lobbied by both providers and unions that care home workers had been “singled out” and the very real possibility of the doomsday scenario of a mass exodus of care home staff in England, so it perhaps does not come as a great surprise that Whitehall has taken some evasive action (perhaps with an indication as to how many staff had refused the vaccine). However, how effective will this self-certification opt out process be and is it only a temporary fix to what has become a polarising political issue.

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Regulatory Reform – the wheels are in motion

On 24 March 2021 the Department of Health and Social Care published an open consultation “Regulating Health Care Professionals, Protecting the Public“.  The consultation is set to run until 16 June 2021.

The consultation has been keenly awaited and follows the Government response of July 2019 to a consultation run in 2017.  Whilst change has been delayed owing to issues such as Brexit and, of course, the pandemic, it seems we are edging closer to reform of professional regulation.

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“Busting Bureaucracy” a step in the right direction?

On 24 November, the Department of Health and Social Care announced a new drive to ‘bust bureaucracy’, locking in changes introduced in the pandemic with the aim of allowing front line health and care staff to focus more on care provision and less on paperwork. Here, I focus on the changes that may be of the greatest interest to regulated organisations and individuals.

The report can be found here.

A call for evidence was made in July, with the message in response highlighting that changes introduced in light of the pandemic were changes made for the better. Respondees did not want to revert to old ways.

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No testing for CQC inspectors: does it risk a breach of the requirement to provide safe care?

The Department of Health and Social Care has made the decision to deny testing to Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspectors, placing service providers at risk of breaching their requirement to provide a safe care environment.

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Frontline health & care staff £60,000 payments

The Department of Health issued a press release confirming that families of health and care workers on the frontline in England will benefit from a new life assurance scheme during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Details of the scheme, which were first published on 27 April, are now beginning to become clearer.

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Care providers: COVID-19 and PPE

The previous guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care failed to address adequately the issue of personal protective equipment (PPE) in care homes. With this said, on 15 April 2020 the Department of Health and Social Care published a new action plan for Adult Social Care, which aims to address the concerns, specifically in respect of PPE. This applies to both care homes and generally any setting where people receive adult social care.

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Coronavirus (COVID-19): Official Guidance for admission and care of people in care homes

Background

The Department of Health and Social Care has provided guidance for care homes, local health protection teams, local authorities, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and registered providers of accommodation for people who need personal or nursing care during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The guidance sets out how to admit and care for residents safely and protect care home staff.[1]

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Care providers urged to ensure they are ready for Brexit

The Government and other bodies such as the Care Providers Alliance are urging health and social care providers to ensure they have done everything they can to prepare for a potential No Deal Brexit on 31 October.

The National Audit Office published a report at the end of September noting that whilst the Department of Health and Social Care had undertaken a lot of work since June 2016 to prepare the sector for leaving the EU, there was still a lot of work to be done before 31 October in respect of the social care sector. For example the report notes that whilst the NHS has taken steps to stockpile medication for immediate use across the healthcare sector,  care homes often rely upon non NHS suppliers for supplies of items such as rubber gloves. The Department did not originally advise the social care sector to stockpile such items, but rather advised that care providers should be simply “ready to deal with any disruption”.

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