Compulsory vaccination for care home workers in England

Out-Law News | 17 Jun 2021 | 1:58 pm | 2 min. read

People working in care homes in England must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 from October, unless they have a medical exemption, the government has announced.

The mandatory vaccination requirement will apply to anyone working in a registered care home providing nursing or personal care on a full-time, part-time or volunteer basis, whether employed directly by the care home provider or by an agency. Those coming into care homes to do other work including healthcare workers, tradespeople, hairdressers and Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspectors must also comply with the vaccination requirements.

The announcement follows a government consultation on mandatory vaccination for care home workers, and is intended to protect residents against death and serious illness. The government intends to consult further on whether to extend mandatory vaccination against Covid-19 and flu to others working in health and social care settings.

The government intends to lay regulations before parliament “at the earliest opportunity”. If approved, there will be a 16-week grace period before the regulations come into force, to allow staff who have not yet been vaccinated time to obtain both doses required for full vaccination.

Employment law expert Anne Sammon of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: “Employers in the social care sectors have been put in the difficult position of balancing on the one hand the need to protect vulnerable people in their care and, on the other, the rights of their employees who do not wish to be vaccinated for Covid-19”.

“Prior to the government announcing mandatory vaccinations for those working in care homes, such employers have faced the risk of unfair dismissal claims as well as potential claims brought on the basis of anti-vax views being a ‘protected belief’ under the 2010 Equality Act – which raises the prospect of uncapped tribunal awards. Mandating vaccination is likely to remove these risks as employers requiring vaccination will simply be complying with their legal requirements – although this will depend on the terms of the legislation,” she said.

In its consultation response, the government said that individuals with an allergy or condition listed in the Public Health England (PHE) ‘green book’ as a reason not to administer a vaccine would be exempt from the requirement. Those entering a care home to assist in an emergency or to carry out urgent maintenance work will also be exempt, along with people under 18 years of age and clinical trial participants. Further guidance will be published on the scope and process for granting exemptions, the government said.

The requirement will only apply to staff requiring indoor access to the premises, and will not apply to residents, or friends or relatives or residents who are visiting. The government is looking at how those affected will be able to use the NHS app and its web-based and non-digital alternatives to provide evidence to employers of their vaccination or exemption status.

According to advice provided to the government by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) social care working group, 80% of staff and 90% of residents in each individual care home setting must receive at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in order to provide a minimum level of protection against outbreaks. However, only 65% of care homes in England currently meet this target, falling to 44% of care homes in London, according to government figures.