The Government has announced plans to introduce compulsory COVID-19 vaccinations for care home staff in England. What will this mean for your care home?
The announcement is not a surprise – the Government consulted on its proposals to change the law to make vaccination compulsory for care workers in April 2021. There was a huge response to the consultation and, although the majority of respondents were opposed to a move to compulsory vaccination, the Government is pressing ahead. There have been important modifications to the original proposals following the consultation, however, including a move to include all care homes (rather than only those with over 65s) and to include all workers (rather than only carers). The Government will change the law and regulations so that not only will there be certainty about the legality of requiring workers to be vaccinated, failure to adhere to the regulations will be a serious and actionable breach of the law.
- When will this come into force?
A date hasn’t yet been set, but the announcement signalled a 16 week ‘grace’ period to allow workers to be vaccinated and to allow care homes to get their policies and procedures in order. We can expect to see the law in force by late autumn.
- What type of care home will be covered?
All care homes regulated by the CQC will have this requirement to ensure all workers are vaccinated, irrespective of whether their clients are clinically more vulnerable to COVID-19.
- How will we know if our workers have been vaccinated
This will be up to individual care homes, but the Government expects that the NHS app will be a simple and convenient system. Care homes will be required to keep records so that they can demonstrate compliance.
- Does this apply to all workers?
Yes, unless they never work indoors. There are exemptions for persons providing emergency assistance or urgent maintenance work, and those under 18.
- What about visiting workers, such as doctors, physiotherapists, hairdressers, or religious officials?
They will all need to be vaccinated and be able to prove it; and you will need to have a system for checking and retaining records of all workers on site and their vaccination status. This includes tradesmen, officials, lawyers, accountants, trustees, volunteers, delivery workers, cleaning staff, waste managements or disposal contractors, furniture delivery/removal and all other workers. There will be exceptions for emergency workers, such as paramedics. Don’t forget to check and record the vaccination status of CQC inspectors. It may be helpful to review any contracts with such third party contractors to check whether they contain sufficient protections if they are unable to comply with this new vaccination requirement.
- Will friends and family have to be vaccinated?
No, visitors who are friends or relatives of residents will not have to be vaccinated and you will not have to check or record their vaccination status. However, you will be required to ensure that you operate a COVID-safe environment. Whether this can or should mean a different visiting regime for those who have been vaccinated remains an area on which we await further guidance.
- How will these new rules be enforced?
The CQC will have responsibility for monitoring and enforcement. Care homes should expect to be able to produce records demonstrating compliance on spot checks or as part of an audit or review. Failure to comply is likely to be taken seriously, and those in breach can expect proactive enforcement. Failure to comply may also create liabilities with respect to staff and residents.
- What about workers who cannot be safely vaccinated?
There will be medical exemptions for those small number of individuals who cannot medically receive a vaccination, albeit they will need to be able to produce proof of exemption and you will be required to keep a record of that exemption. As will all medical information you hold, there are strict duties of confidentiality.
- Will COVID-19 vaccination be a one-off?
We don’t yet know, but most people reasonably anticipate that there may be booster programs or the need for repeated vaccination periodically. This means that the need to check and record vaccination status is likely to be ongoing for some time, perhaps indefinitely.
- Will workers have to have had one or both doses of a vaccine?
Care homes will only be able to allow entry to those workers who can demonstrate evidence of having had a complete course of an authorised Covid-19 vaccine. In most cases currently this will mean both doses.