The social care sector has been awaiting the Government’s decision relating to mandatory vaccinations for the care workforce, following the alleged leaking of a paper, revealing that Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock had agreed to put in place legislation to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for social care staff.
The Government launched a consultation, to collate responses and opinions on the proposal. Although a statement is yet to be issued by The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirming its policy that vaccinations will in fact become mandatory, the sector has shared its concerns.
This feature was originally published in the May issue of CMM and is being updated in line with the Government announcements.
The obstacle most frequently raised by the sector has been the legal implications of introducing mandatory vaccinations. In particular, the argument that a law of this nature would restrict an individual’s human right to respect for private life (under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights) which includes the right to decide whether to undergo medical treatment. In a broader sense, the sector should be concerned that individuals may choose to refuse vaccination for several other legitimate reasons, or protected characteristics. These include pregnancy or breastfeeding, religious reasons, disability or allergy, or various ethical reasons such as vegans opposing any jab that may contain animal products. Although the latter is irrelevant as far as the UK’s current approved COVID-19 vaccinations are concerned, this does not rule out any future vaccinations should the current proposals be written into law.
For these reasons, it would be unquestionable to think that this proposal would be made into law without significant opposition from some within the sector. Therefore, one question to raise is what is an appropriate response to those who refused mandatory vaccination? Careful consideration and robust procedures must be undertaken to ensure that these instances would be dealt with sensitively and empathetically. In addition, providers would be eager to ensure that compliance with any such law would not leave them vulnerable to a barrage of legal challenges from their own staff. This would only serve to twist the knife in a sector already facing staffing shortfalls.
Another implication of introducing mandatory vaccines relates to recruitment. Specifically, how providers would manifest such legislation into their recruitment policies and how it would impact on workplace issues such as but not limited to applications, interviews and disciplinary actions. To avoid unlawful practices, any legislation of this nature would need to be accompanied by comprehensive guidance for providers, clarifying any uncertainty relating to vaccinations and recruitment.
A clear barrier limiting recruitment opportunities for the sector in the wake of this legislation passing would be the Government’s current vaccination programme. With current estimations targeting the 31st July for all adults in the UK to have been offered their first vaccination dose, the proposed legislation would logically dictate that providers would likely be unable to advertise social care vacancies to those aged 18-49 until this time. This equates to approximately 50% (50.4%) of the UK’s adult social care workforce in September 2019, according to Skills for Care.
Whilst on paper, it represents a seemingly attractive solution to further control the rate of COVID-19
infections in this country, in practice, legislation to introduce mandatory vaccinations in the social care sector has a multitude of largely negative implications. Should the Government decide to pursue the proposed legislation further, both implications for legal challenges and employment procedures simply cannot be ignored.