Covid jab could become condition of deployment for care home staff – Government

Jemma Crew, PA Social Affairs Correspondent
·5 min read

Care home staff in England could be required to get a coronavirus vaccine as a condition of deployment to protect elderly residents, the Government has said.

The Department of Health and Social Care has launched a consultation on making vaccination a condition of deployment for staff at older adult care homes.

The five-week consultation will seek views on the proposal, any potential impact it could have on staffing and safety, how it could be implemented and who could be exempt.

Staff, care providers, residents and their families and other stakeholders are being urged to take part.

A decision is expected to be made this summer.

According to experts from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), 80% of staff and 90% of residents need to be vaccinated to provide a minimum level of protection against Covid-19 outbreaks.

The DHSC said nearly half of care homes for older residents in England are not meeting this threshold.

The Government is urging all care home workers to take up a jab now to keep themselves and residents safe.

Latest vaccination figures from NHS England show that 78.9% of older adult care home staff have had a jab.

Currently the staff vaccination rate is below 80% in 89 out of 150 local authority areas, including all London boroughs. In 27 local authority areas less than 70% of staff have had a jab.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Older people living in care homes are most at risk of suffering serious consequences of Covid-19 and we have seen the grave effects the virus has had on this group.

“Making vaccines a condition of deployment is something many care homes have called for, to help them provide greater protection for staff and residents in older people’s care homes and so save lives.

“The vaccine is already preventing deaths and is our route out of this pandemic. We have a duty of care to those most vulnerable to Covid-19, so it is right we consider all options to keep people safe.”

Chairman of the Adult Social Care Covid-19 Taskforce David Pearson thanked staff for getting vaccinated, adding: “It is absolutely vital those who have not yet taken the opportunity to have their vaccine do so to keep themselves and those they care for safe.”

The proposal would not include staff who are exempt from taking the vaccine on medical grounds.

Some care providers already have policies in place on mandatory staff vaccination.

NHS England has been running a minimum four-visit schedule for each older adult care home and with hundreds of vaccination centres across the country to make vaccinations as easy as possible.

The “vast majority” of homes have had repeat visits, DHSC said.

Requiring older adult care home providers to deploy only those workers who have received a jab would “increase uptake in these areas and assist in helping all care providers reach the required rate of uptake to keep people safe and save lives”, it added.

The consultation will help decision makers understand how the change could be implemented and if those affected think it will be beneficial.

Barchester Healthcare, one of the UK’s biggest care home providers, has a policy where it expects all staff to have had the vaccine by April 23, bar a number of “acceptable exemptions”.

Chief executive Dr Pete Calveley said the group “strongly supports” and encourages other providers to support the Government’s proposal.

He said: “We have not lightly introduced our vaccine policy, but we take the view that providing safe care for those we care for is our paramount obligation.”

Care England, a membership body for care providers, said providers have listened to staff concerns, which has had “a very positive effect with a good take-up”.

Chief executive Professor Martin Green said: “The sector is divided on whether or not vaccination should be mandatory, but it is wholly united in its support for the vaccine and has done everything it can to persuade its residents and staff to have it.

“Should the vaccine be mandatory for adult social care staff working in care homes for older people it begs the question whether it should not be mandatory for the NHS, those working in other care home settings, supported living, hospices, etc as well.”

He added that ease of access “is crucial in terms of enabling and encouraging staff” to get the jab.

Vic Rayner, chief executive of the National Care Forum, added: “It is not clear how it can be possible to focus mandatory vaccines on only one cohort of staff working with older people, when older people are very likely to experience care and treatment interventions from health staff and a range of other professionals.”

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said mandatory vaccination is “the wrong approach and a massive distraction”.

She warned: “Too heavy-handed an approach could backfire badly. Some staff may simply up and go, leaving a poorly paid sector already struggling with thousands and thousands of vacancies in a terrible state.

“That could damage the quality of care for the elderly and vulnerable, and no one wants that.”

Instead, the Government should target resources at areas with low take-up, aim advertising towards care staff, tackle misinformation and give staff more time, while employers should ensure staff get time off to get the jab, she said.