Health and social care providers in England will be required to ensure workers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, unless they are exempt, under plans announced by the Health and Social Care Secretary.
The regulations will apply to health and social care workers who have direct, face-to-face contact with people while providing care – such as doctors, nurses, dentists and domiciliary care workers, unless they are exempt.
They will also apply to ancillary staff such as porters or receptionists who may have social contact with patients but are not directly involved in their care. This will apply across the CQC-regulated health and social care sector.
The majority of NHS workers are already vaccinated, as over 92.8% have had their first dose and 89.9% have had both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. In social care, 83.7% of domiciliary care workers have had their first dose and 74.6% have had both doses.
Latest published data shows, however, that over 103,000 NHS Trust workers and 105,000 domiciliary care workers have not been reported as fully vaccinated and the government is urging them to take up the offer now, to keep themselves and those they care for safe.
The requirements will come into force in the spring, subject to the passage of the regulations through Parliament. There will be a 12-week grace period between the regulations being made and coming into force to allow those who have not yet been vaccinated to have both doses. Enforcement would begin from 1st April, subject to parliamentary approval.
While the policy will not apply to COVID-19 boosters or the flu vaccine at this time, the government will keep this under review, and if necessary, bring forward amendments to the regulations.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said:
“Vaccines save lives and patient safety is paramount. Many of the people being treated in hospitals or cared for at home are the most vulnerable to COVID-19. We have a responsibility to give patients and staff the best possible protection.
“We have consulted closely with the sector and will introduce new regulations to ensure people working in healthcare are vaccinated from next spring.
“I want thank everyone who works in health and social care for the amazing work they do. If you haven’t come forward for your jab yet, please do so. We are determined to support you in this process.”
Amanda Pritchard, NHS Chief Executive said:
“The NHS has always been clear that staff should get the life-saving covid vaccination to protect themselves, their loved ones and their patients and the overwhelming majority have already done so. Working with NHS organisations, we will continue to support staff who have not yet received the vaccination to take up the evergreen offer.”
Chief Nurse for Adult Social Care Deborah Sturdy said:
“We know that vaccines save lives which is why earlier this year we set out our plans to make vaccines a condition of deployment in care homes to protect those who are more vulnerable to this virus.
“Today’s announcement to extend these regulations will ensure all those who access regulated social care are afforded maximum protection from COVID-19. “I encourage anyone working in social care who has not yet had their vaccine to come forward as soon as possible to protect yourselves, your colleagues and those you care for.”
The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) commented:
“We strongly urge pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to get COVID-19 and flu vaccinations at the earliest opportunity, unless they are medically exempt, and ask them to encourage other members of their team to get vaccinated as well. For healthcare workers, getting vaccinated protects the individual, their family, and colleagues, as well as patients and the public.
“We responded to the Government consultation on making COVID-19 vaccination a condition of deployment for frontline health and care workers in England who are providing face-to-face care across the CQC-regulated health sector. There was already an existing statutory requirement for those working or volunteering in care homes in England to be vaccinated against COVID-19. We noted in our response that the Government was not proposing to extend the legal mandate to people working in pharmacies regulated by the GPhC. Wherever pharmacy professionals are working we urge them to take up the vaccine.
“As the Secretary of State’s announcement relates to the deployment of NHS staff, it will be for NHS employers to lead on implementing this policy. We recommend that any pharmacy professionals in England who work in settings regulated by the CQC, and who have questions or concerns about these requirements, should speak to their employer in the first instance.”
Chair of Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in England Thorrun Govind said:
“We believe that informed consent is preferable to mandatory vaccination for health and care workers.
“Other vaccinations that healthcare staff are required to have are not mandated in law, but part of occupational health or health and safety requirements. We believe that COVID-19 vaccination should be treated in the same way and offered as part of working for the NHS, with supportive engagement and education on why this is important. The approach taken to date means that over 92% of NHS staff have now received their first Covid vaccine, and 90% have received their second vaccine.
“The ethical implications of this regulation will need consideration, such as the rights of individuals to decide and consent as to what treatment they have. It also has implications for those delivering the vaccinations and puts them in a difficult position, as consent is a fundamental principle of good healthcare and professional practice.
“It’s positive to hear an equality impact assessment of this policy will now be carried out. We are concerned that this policy will remove people from frontline care in a system that is under pressure and could affect patient care. It may also cause an increase in inequalities across the workforce as those living and working in areas of deprivation are the least likely to be vaccinated, so the provision of care in these areas will be reduced accordingly.
“Compulsory vaccination could have other unintended consequences such as a negative effect on the mental health of NHS teams at a time when many health and care professionals are already experiencing difficulties as a result of workplace stress.”