The Government haven't announced anything official about mandatory vaccination, but the BBC is now reporting that staff working in care homes will be given 16 weeks to be vaccinated or face being redeployed away from front line care or losing their jobs. If this is true, the chances of care homes having roles away from front line care to move their staff into are extremely limited so this is likely to mean all care home workers who refuse vaccination being dismissed. This could have a significant impact on the continuity of care in some areas where vaccine take-up has been low.
Mandatory vaccination has split opinions between care home providers and will be welcomed by some providers. This policy is, in my view, a reflection on how government view social care as a second class citizen to health. The consultation results on mandatory vaccination are yet to be published and I haven't seen any compelling evidence that proves mandatory vaccination is necessary in care homes but not necessary in health care settings or in domiciliary care or supported living settings.
We don't know yet whether the policy would include exemptions for those who cannot be vaccinated for health or belief related reasons. Providers we work with who have introduced mandatory vaccination for new staff have been careful to make allowances for anyone who cannot be vaccinated because of a particular protected characteristic.
Without a compelling evidence base, I consider mandatory vaccination for all care home staff could be subject to legal challenge and I would expect a judicial review to be mounted by unions supporting workers in the sector. Further detail about that is in my blog here.
Ultimately, if the Government mandate vaccination, care home providers are likely to be able to fairly dismiss staff who refuse the vaccine but at what cost to the sector? Skilled and dedicated care workers with genuinely held fears about vaccination may be lost to the sector, fuelling a new crisis with a shortage of sufficiently skilled and experienced staff to deliver safe care, increasing agency use, spiralling costs and increasing infection risk.
My view is that mandatory vaccination of care home staff now is the wrong move at the wrong time. It will be welcomed by some in the sector because of the perceived certainty it will bring, but if the policy subsequently falls down on human rights grounds it will be social care providers left carrying the cost.
In the meantime providers should not change their approach to mandatory vaccination for existing staff ahead of a formal Government announcement.
Care staff are expected to be given 16 weeks to have the jab - or face being redeployed away from frontline care, or lose their jobs.