Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccinations – is a risk to patient care inevitable? 

England and Wales

The Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2021 will require anyone working in a Care Quality Commission (CQC) registered care home in England to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 from 11 November 2021 (unless medically exempt). Today (16 September 2021) represents a key stage in this process; it is the last day for care home workers to receive their first vaccination to be fully vaccinated before the regulations come into force.

Uptake of the vaccination within the sector varies throughout England. Dr Pete Calveley, CEO of Barchester, said “Barchester care homes saw positive engagement with 99% of its staff willing to have the vaccine”. The Government’s Statement of Impact set out the anticipated workforce loss due to the regulations as between 3% and 12% with the midpoint representing 40,000 staff. They also recognised that some groups who are seen as more ‘vaccine hesitant’ may be negatively impacted such as women of childbearing age, people from Black Asian Minority Ethnic groups, and those who are concerned about the vaccine based on religion or belief. The anticipated reduction in workforce could place even more pressure on a sector which has experienced significant difficulties during the past year, with the CEO of Care England warning that care homes in some areas could face closure due to unsafe staffing levels.  Staff dismissals are already happening at some care homes following refusals to have the vaccine before the deadline.

Responsibility to monitor and enforce the new regulations lies with the CQC who have stated that any enforcement activity against care homes will be undertaken on a proportionate basis, treating each case individually and on its’ own merits.

With many experiencing difficulties in recruitment already (carehome.co.uk report that job vacancies have doubled in the past six months), it is causing some to ask, what is the greater risk to patient care; being treated by non-vaccinated staff or having too few staff to care for the patients due to necessary dismissals? Will the Government’s new consultation mean that this quandary will extend to other areas of the sector?

There are many unanswered questions, however, it is clear that the steps an organisation has taken over the next 8 weeks will become increasingly important, with the potential for CQC enforcement action.

If you are a health, social care or education provider and require advice and assistance please contact us. We are monitoring the situation regularly and our team are on-hand to assist with your regulatory queries.

Article co-authored by Niamh O'Hanlon.