You might have seen my blog on whether VCOD really is the end of mandatory vaccinations for the health and social care sector, following the Government consultation responses, which left the position unclear. This lack of clarity will have been disconcerting for many in the sector, who are understandably tired of navigating uncertainty.
Yesterday, the much-anticipated Infection and Prevention Control guidance (IPC) was updated by the Government to shed light on matters, with a Covid-19 supplement for adult social care due to come into force on 4 April 2022.
The guidance states that providers should: “Encourage and support all their staff to get a Covid-19 vaccine and a booster dose, as and when they are eligible”; by “putting arrangements in place to facilitate staff access to vaccinations and regularly reviewing the immunisation status of their workforce, in line with ‘The Green Book’”. It also states that “risk assessment (which should be carried out wherever possible) should take into account vaccination status of staff”.
Many care providers will have been left with further questions following its publication, so we’ve set out our thoughts on what this means in practice:
- Providers continue to need to know the vaccination status of their staff. When obtaining staff vaccination records, providers need to carefully consider obligations under the Data Protection Act 2018. Due to its sensitivity, vaccination data is a ‘Special Category’, requiring a lawful basis for processing. Our advice is that in most instances where the data is being used to comply with health & safety obligations as part of Covid-19 risk management, it will be reasonable to request and hold data.
- Risk assessments will need to include reference to the vaccination status of both staff and those they care for, and should be a factor in determining where to deploy members of staff. This doesn’t automatically mean a ‘no jab no job’ policy is justifiable but vaccination status will need to be considered. It would be prudent to document these risk assessments.
- In light of the guidance, my view is that it would be appropriate for providers to implement a ‘no-jab no job’ policy for new recruits, subject to exceptions where individuals can’t be vaccinated for a reason connected to a protected characteristic. This should ensure that the proportion of staff who are vaccinated increases over time.
- Providers need to ensure vaccinations and boosters for existing staff are facilitated. A range of options could be considered such as organising vaccination booths on-site, covering staff to have their vaccination or booster during working hours and ensuring there is plenty of information available for staff to make an informed decision.
Other key points to stay mindful of in light of the guidance include:
- Specific types of PPE will now only be relevant in high-risk situations. You can read more about this here.
- Staff lateral flow testing has changed from pre-shift to twice weekly. Symptomatic staff should stay away from work and take an additional test 48 hours after the first test. Only then may they return to work.
- Where staff are positive but have no symptoms, providers will need to balance the risk that staff may fail to disclose their test results if paid only statutory sick pay, against the cost of paying their wages in full in the alternative.
- The other significant change is that staff who are in close contact with someone outside of work who has tested positive can continue to attend work subject to a risk assessment. They are not required to test daily. In contrast, if an individual (staff or resident) receives a positive result in a care home, adult day care centre, or high-risk extra care and supported living setting, then all staff should conduct daily rapid LFD testing every day that they are working, for five days (regardless of contact with the positive case). This appears inconsistent. I expect many providers would prefer to apply the same approach to contacts with positive cases outside the care setting to positive cases in the care setting and ensure daily testing.
- Restrictions on staff movement between services have come to an end.
It is welcome that testing for the sector will continue to be funded but the end of the Infection Control Fund is much more difficult to understand. It is leading to difficult choices on staff pay, and where staff are left with only SSP whilst having a positive test /isolating, that will inevitably increase the risk of infection outbreaks as carers are forced to have reduced pay amidst significant rises in the cost of living if they chose to do the right thing.