ACAS guidance published – getting the COVID-19 vaccine for work

Our latest blog post commented on the new Government rules coming into effect from 11 November 2021 around vaccination for anyone who works inside a CQC registered care home in England. ACAS has published new advice for care home staff in England setting out how employers can approach the issue with their staff.

Following the suggestion that mandatory vaccination in a care home setting could lead to around 3-12% of care home staff being no longer able to work, the advice from ACAS focuses on helping employers to support staff and to provide strategies to avoid potential disciplinary action or dismissal.

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Mandatory vaccines for care home workers ‘irrational’?

The Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2021 was made into law on 22 July 2021 and is scheduled to come into force for 11 November 2021.

This development has garnered a lot of press coverage as it makes it a requirement that any worker in a care home environment has to have been fully vaccinated unless they are exempt from vaccination.

Although it  is not yet in force an attempt has been made to judicially review the lawfulness of it.

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MPs approve compulsory vaccinations in the care home sector

We recently commented on the government’s plans for vaccinations to become mandatory for all care home workers. Yesterday, MPs approved this initiative despite a small number of dissenting voices within the Conservative rank and file. Passing with a majority of 319 votes to 246, anyone working in a care home registered with the Care Quality Commission in England must have had two vaccine doses by October, unless they have a medical exemption.

The feuding within the Conservative party appears to focus on the lack of any published impact assessment of the policy before the vote (Health Minister, Helen Whately told MPs this was being worked on), something which many argue is imperative when balancing risks and imposing such measures on an entire (and already stretched) healthcare sector particularly in a group of workers which has a very low take up of the vaccine.

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COVID-19 vaccinations – the right for healthcare workers to decide and the impact on social care

Most people who followed the press coverage in the UK following the public announcement of an ambitious national vaccination rollout would have foreseen the possibility for tension to exist between the public drive for everyone to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and the right of autonomy to refuse. The number of “anti-vax” conspiracy theories circulating online is simply staggering and some of the farcical claims really do beggar belief, notwithstanding the government’s attempts to allay these concerns. However, whilst many are content for individuals to make their own informed (or otherwise) decision, it becomes a far more emotive subject when the workers concerned are in the healthcare sector. Chances are, the majority of people reading this will have been affected directly or indirectly by COVID-19 and many more will have vulnerable or elderly relatives who rely upon the care and unwavering dedication of healthcare workers but it may not be a particularly comforting thought if the person providing that care to a vulnerable loved one were to refuse the vaccine.

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Can employers force frontline carers to be vaccinated?

In the last few weeks we have seen a number of well known care providers introducing new policies, whereby new staff will be required to have the COVID vaccine prior to starting work. Some care providers have gone as far as requiring current care staff to be vaccinated, unless they are unable to on medical grounds. Some care providers have seemingly made it clear that if staff members refuse, purely out of choice, then this will make them ‘unavailable to work’ within frontline care settings. It seems that this decision has been made, amid concerns over the uptake of the vaccine amongst care workers across the UK.

No doubt, these decisions have been made to ensure the protection of those being cared for, as well as for staff members. However, with more care providers deciding to take this step, the question is now whether this raises employment concerns, for discrimination and unfair dismissal, amongst other things.

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Update on the potential impact of carers refusing vaccination

In our previous blog of 17 December, we considered the potential employment law implications for care homes where staff refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19.  The vaccination programme is now picking up pace across the country, with the Government announcing earlier in the week that more than 4 million people had received their first dose. However, the daily figures for COVID-19 related deaths reached a peak of 1,820 on Wednesday, amid serious concerns that the vaccination programme is not being carried out quickly enough to stop the increasing number of deaths in care homes in recent weeks.  

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