The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has launched a five-week consultation looking at requiring care home providers, caring for older adults, to deploy only those workers who have received their COVID-19 vaccination.
This will not include those who can provide evidence of a medical exemption from the COVID-19 vaccination.
Experts on the social care working group of SAGE advise 80% of staff and 90% of residents need to be vaccinated to provide a minimum level of protection against outbreaks of COVID-19. Only 53% of older adult homes in England are currently meeting this threshold.
This means nearly half of all care homes with older adult residents, home to 150,000 vulnerable people, don’t meet SAGE’s recommended vaccination thresholds for care homes and staff.
Currently, the staff vaccination rate is below 80% in 89 local authority areas – more than half – and all 32 London boroughs. There are 27 local authority areas with a staff vaccination rate below 70%.
With some providers already implementing similar policies, the Government said the consultation will help inform decision-making around how the change could be implemented and whether respondents think it will be beneficial.
The consultation will seek views on the proposal, its scope, any potential impact it could have on staffing and safety as well as how it is implemented and who could be exempt.
Staff, providers, stakeholders, residents, and their families are being urged to take part to have their views heard with a final decision expected this summer.
Care England has welcomed the opportunity to respond to the Government’s consultation on mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for care staff working in care homes for older people, rather than all care homes, but expressed concern about the very short timescales.
The consultation gives the adult social care sector only five weeks to submit their views on whether COVID-19 vaccination should be compulsory. The usual consultation phase is 12 weeks.
Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive of Care England, said, ‘We have been really impressed on how care providers have worked with their staff to listen to their concerns about the vaccine and this has had a very positive effect with a good take up. 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.’
Care England said where there are differences of opinion there should be a full consultation rather than a curtailed timescale. The representative body will be encouraging their members that provide services for older people to respond but say with so many competing priorities they may not be able to do it justice in such a short time.
Vic Rayner, CEO of the National Care Forum, said, ‘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. This consultation has very significant implications for the older people living in care homes and their families, the organisations who run care homes, and the staff who work in them, so we urge them all to respond to the consultation to make their views heard. Our shared aim must remain to focus on what works to make sure that as many people as possible in social care are able to have the vaccine.’
Barchester Healthcare Chief Executive Dr Pete Calveley, said, 'Barchester believes the vaccination programme has transformed the outlook for the vulnerable residents in older people care homes, a significant proportion of whom will not acquire full immunity despite being vaccinated. 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.
'As the Chief Medical Officer has said, it is a professional duty for care home staff to accept the vaccine unless there is a medical reason they should not. As time has progressed, the safety, efficacy and transmission-reduction evidence has become ever stronger, which supports our initial view. For those reasons, we support the proposal by the DHSC to open a consultation on this important matter and strongly encourage other providers to support this proposal.'
Visit the Government website for more information regarding the consultation.
Care home residents, under the latest Government guidance, are unable to leave their care home to exercise their inalienable right to vote in person. If care home residents vote in person, they will face 14 days of isolation on their return.