The Government has confirmed (subject to Parliamentary approval) that all frontline health and social care workers (in both the NHS and private sector) in England will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by 1 April 2022.
This news (which follows a Government-led consultation that considered whether both the COVID-19 and flu jabs should be compulsory) means that all full-time health and social care workers, who work in patient-facing roles, will be required to have received both of their COVID-19 vaccines as a compulsory condition of their employment. Only those who are medically exempt will not be required to be vaccinated, as is the case for staff members who do not have face-to-face contact with patients. The flu vaccine will not be made mandatory.
Subject to Parliamentary approval, there will be a 12-week grace period between the requirements being made and coming into effect to allow unvaccinated staff to have both doses of a vaccine.
The announcement follows the introduction of a similar requirement for care home workers, where all employees working in adult care homes in England are required to be fully vaccinated. This measure was formally introduced on 11 November 2021.
What has the response been to this announcement and how could it impact health and social care staffing levels?
When making the announcement, Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, said that he recognised the subsequent added pressure that this would put on health services and that it would most likely mean that some staff members would leave their current roles (there are currently 103,000 unvaccinated NHS workers). However, this action will better protect patients and health and social care services as a whole.
He has called on employers to “support and encourage” staff members to get vaccinated but added that:
“No one in the NHS should be scapegoated, singled out or shamed [for not having been fully vaccinated already],”
Currently, almost 93% of frontline NHS staff members have had one dose of a vaccine and 90% are fully vaccinated, according to the Health Secretary. This take-up is higher than the general working-age population, in which 81% have had two doses of a vaccine. In social care, 83.7% of employees working in domiciliary care have had one dose of a vaccine and 74.6% are fully vaccinated.
The Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, Matthew Taylor, has welcomed the announcement and said that the April 2022 deadline would give employers the time to ensure that their workforce is compliant. He commented:
“Mandating Covid-19 vaccinations in the NHS offers a further incentive for staff who are eligible but have not come forward yet to get jabbed at time when the virus continues to be a threat and the NHS is working hard to deliver its broader services for patients.
“For this reason, we are relieved the government has listened to our plea to roll out the requirement away from what is expected to be the most challenging winter on record. This will also give leaders much needed time to continue to engage and support the remaining staff who have not yet been vaccinated and to understand the possible consequences at a local level.”
However, others have criticised the Government’s vaccine mandate. Particularly in respect of the impact it could have on staffing levels. In fact, according to the Government’s impact statement, the mandate could result in 73,000 workers leaving their roles. This will, as the impact statement outlines, heavily disrupt health and social care services as they will be forced to replace or fill in for unvaccinated staff. This will obviously be a major concern for bosses.
The announcement could also lead to a variety of legal and HR issues for employers. This is because staff members who refuse to be vaccinated and are then forced to leave their roles may decide to raise grievances with their employers and could potentially bring legal action. Health services will also need to keep a record of what vaccines their workers have received and put in place processes for job redeployments or dismissals, where required.
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