Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccinations – will they be mandated in the wider health and social care sector?

England and Wales

In ‘Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccinations – is a risk to patient care inevitable?’ we discussed the legal requirement for those working in a care home to be fully vaccinated, unless exempt, by 11 November 2021, and the potential impact on staffing in care homes. The Government’s consultation ‘Making vaccination a condition of deployment in the health and wider social care sector’ is set to close this evening (22 October 2021) and the question is whether the regulations will be amended to extend the mandatory vaccine requirement more widely within the sector, considering the impact that may have on delivery of these services in England and consequently patient care.

Whilst we await the outcome of that consultation (due to be reported this winter), we have taken a closer look at how these regulations apply to care homes in order to understand what the future picture may look like. 

The current regulations are wide-reaching and extend to all workers requiring indoor access to care homes on both a part-time and occasional basis. This will include hairdressers, activities co-ordinators and maintenance workers. It will exclude those who require access to the care home in an emergency situation (for example to undertake emergency maintenance work or provide emergency medical assistance). Service users, their families and friends are also excluded from this requirement.

The Government released guidance on proving your exempt status earlier this month. Exemptions include those with certain medical conditions, severe allergy to the vaccines or those who had an adverse reaction to the first dose. There are also time-limited exemptions for those with short-term medical conditions and for pregnant women should they choose to take it. (Their exemption will expire 16 weeks post-partum allowing time for them to become fully vaccinated after birth). The process in obtaining proof of your exemption can take between two to three weeks and so care homes are encouraged to ask staff to start this process in good time to meet the deadline of 11 November. The guidance explains that the clinical decision on medical exemptions is final and not open to appeal. The Department of Health and Social Care have confirmed that those working or volunteering in care homes who may be exempt can self-certify that they are medically exempt up until 24 December 2021.

The registered person will be responsible for ensuring that everyone who enters their care home is either vaccinated or exempt. Care homes will have to implement a system to check vaccination status e.g, creating a check point outside the building. They will also need to consider how they want to keep a record of this, ensuring they process the information in line with GDPR. Providers will need to address these issues all before the regulation comes into force in November.

The regulations have not only imposed an increased administrative burden on care home providers in an already overstretched sector, but also on the Care Quality Commission (CQC) who are responsible for monitoring and enforcing them. If the regulations are expanded to all those undertaking a CQC regulated activity (including NHS and private sectors), as per the consultation, can the current regulatory system work or is that set to buckle under the pressure? Will staffing shortages in the health and social care sector deteriorate further? These are questions which can only be answered in time.

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.