Following on from my previous article surrounding compulsory COVID-19 regulations for care home staff, from 11th November, anyone working in a Care Quality Commission registered care home in England and Wales must have two vaccine doses unless they have a valid medical exemption.
To whom do the regulations apply?
They will apply to all workers either employed directly by the care home or care home provider whether that is on a part-time or full-time basis, those employed by an agency and deployed by the care home, and volunteers used by the care home.
The regulations will also apply to those coming into care homes to do other work. For example healthcare workers, tradespeople, hairdressers, beauticians, and CQC inspectors will all have to comply with the new regulations, unless they have a medical exemption.
The government is well aware of the potential impact and predicts around seven per cent of care home workers (around 40,000) will refuse to have the vaccine. It has estimated that by the time the vaccine becomes compulsory, around 87 per cent of the workforce will have had both doses. On any given day, the social care sector has around 112,000 vacancies.
A 16-week grace period from 22nd July for all care home workers to be vaccinated has been announced, with 16th September being the last date care workers will be able to get their first vaccine in order to be fully vaccinated before the regulations come into effect. Arguably, the change to regulation could in 16 weeks-time, without preparation or support, add the estimated 40,000 unvaccinated to current vacancy figures, putting pressure on those who have been vaccinated until replacement workers are recruited.
In a statement, the government said there are “plausible reasons” why they believe it will be possible to fill the large number of replacement workers who may be required as a direct result of the vaccination policy, citing the approaching end of furlough together with “the limited level of requirements necessary for those entering the sector.”
It is calculated the cost of replacing staff not meeting the vaccination requirement at around £2,550 each, which based on government estimates “indicates a one-off cost to care home providers of £100m.” There is also an unquantified risk that some care homes who have higher levels amongst their staff of vaccine hesitancy will find it more difficult or costly to replace workers, placing stress on already stretched resources.
The evidence suggests that vaccine hesitancy is highest among black people, people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage, and non-UK/Irish white ethnic groups. In relation to social care workers from minority ethnic backgrounds, it also acknowledged there was a real risk that “issues such as lack of trust could be exacerbated by this policy”.
Advice from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) says that “mandatory vaccination is an intrusion on an employee’s body and may discriminate on the basis of disability, or religious or philosophical belief.” Whether this proves to be the case, only time will tell, as those cases filter through employment tribunals.
Critics of the regulations have stressed that mandatory vaccination is unnecessary and disproportionate and will not remedy the serious shortcomings of the care sector. Stating that paid time in which to assess vaccination via access to decent training, adequate wages (including sick pay), personal protective equipment, and strong infection control protocols will go a long way to reassure hesitant care workers.