The Health and Social Care Secretary has announced that mandatory vaccination as a condition of deployment for health and social care staff is set to be revoked.
These changes will be subject to a period of public consultation, parliamentary approval and will require a change to the regulations already laid.
The Government has previously said that it keeps all COVID-19 measures under review. When vaccination as a condition of deployment was introduced, Delta was the dominant variant representing 99% of cases. Omicron has now replaced Delta as the dominant variant at 96% of cases.
Two vaccine doses against Omicron also become less effective over time, which is why the Get Boosted Now campaign was launched in December. The latest data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows boosters are around 90% effective in preventing hospitalisation from Omicron soon after they are administered.
While the legal requirement on deployment is set to be revoked, the Government has said that those working in health and social care still have a professional duty to get vaccinated.
‘The Government’s u-turn on mandatory vaccinations is a joke,’ said Neil Russell, chair of PJ Care, which provides specialist neurological care to residents with progressive conditions such as dementia, acquired brain injury and Huntington’s disease. ‘The residential care sector warned the Government what would happen if they tried to impose mandatory vaccinations on NHS staff after what happened in social care: we lost so many staff in November because of the mandatory vaccine and it was obvious that this scenario would be repeated in the NHS.’
PJ Care lost frontline staff with a combined 87 years of experience due to the imposition of the mandatory vaccine. While this did not affect the level of care the PJ Care provided, replacing that amount of experience takes time and expense in the recruitment process – especially in a sector that was tens of thousands of personnel short before the vaccine mandate was imposed.
‘Needing to change the law at this late stage shows a complete lack of foresight and planning,’ Neil added. ‘For us in the care home sector, the damage has already been done as we have lost staff and most will not want to come back after the way they feel they have been treated over this issue.’
Since the consultation on health and wider social care staff was announced in September, more than 127,000 NHS staff came forward for a vaccine and 95% have now had at least one dose.
After the consultation on vaccines as a condition of deployment was launched and regulations laid uptake among care home staff rose from 77% to 94.5%.
Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive of Care England, said, 'This policy was imposed upon the care home sector without due consideration or support. Sadly, it has had unintended consequences with staff leaving the sector, some to the NHS, thus exacerbating the pre existing recruitment and retention challenges leading to disruption to the delivery of health and care services.'
The Home care Association is pleased that the Government has initiated a consultation on a proposal to revoke the VCOD regulations. However, the home care association said that it needs immediate clarity about the short-term implications given that the deadline for the first dose of vaccine is this Thursday 3rd February 2022, and employers are poised to start dismissal procedures with unvaccinated staff. It's been reported that some employers have already initiated dismissal processes where employees have notice periods of three months, which is more common for live-in care.
Vic Rayner OBE, CEO of The National Care Forum (NCF) said, ‘NCF and our membership have been 100% behind the drive for vaccination and booster take up throughout the pandemic. However, we have consistently challenged the argument to force people to be vaccinated, finding the best results came from persuasion and encouragement, with good information and support to address people’s concerns respectfully and to encourage vaccine take up.’
Vic Rayner continues, ‘The Government has consistently chosen to ignore the advice of those who work in the care sector, and has steam rolled through a chaotic policy with long term detrimental impacts on those who work in care homes and receive care and support. Care homes have been the unwitting guinea pigs through the implementation of this policy, and the impact on people must not be swept under the carpet.’
In October last year, strong words were spoken by the Health and Social Care Secretary telling social care workers “… if you cannot be bothered to go and get vaccinated then get out and go and get another job.” NCF has said that the lack of regard and respect for care workers was felt strongly, and these were words that contributed to over 30,000 care workers leaving the sector and contributing to the worst staffing crisis we have seen on record in social care.
Vic Rayner concludes, ‘The decision to consult further on the introduction of this mandate across the wider health and care sector is welcome, but it is vital that the government learns from this experience and make policy decisions that are well thought-through and takes seriously the long term impact it has on people’s lives. This latest announcement feels like one based purely on expediency with regards to the predictable effect on levels of staffing in health services, without taking any account of the significant impact and the disastrous damage that has already occurred.’
Access Social Care welcomes the predicted U-turn on mandatory Covid vaccinations for NHS and social care staff, yet said it is too late. The National Care Association has reported that the sector has lost about 40,000 staff.
Kari Gerstheimer, CEO and Founder of Access Social Care, a charity providing free legal advice and information to the social care sector said, ‘The Government ignored the warning signs from the care sector about how the mandate would deepen the staffing crisis in November and ploughed ahead with the policy. Social care has been used as the trial run for the NHS. Social care staffing must be treated as seriously as NHS staffing.
‘Exhausted family carers are on their knees because they are unable to recruit support. In some instances, social care providers are having to hand back contracts because they can’t find staff. This impacts people's lives: older and disabled people are going without vital care needed to maintain a basic quality of life. Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff have experienced the greatest impact from this policy, as there is more vaccine hesitancy amongst those groups. If mandatory vaccinations are removed for the NHS, it is essential that they are also removed for social care.’
Visit the Government website to read the Government's initial statement on the case for mandatory vaccinations.