The Government has confirmed it will require all care home staff to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 – and is considering extending the policy to NHS staff.
Under the new legislation, which comes into force in October if approved by parliament, anyone working in a care home for residents requiring nursing or personal care must have two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine unless they have a medical exemption.
The Government will also launch a further public consultation on whether to make Covid-19 and flu vaccination mandatory across all healthcare settings.
Its five-week consultation into the controversial requirement limited its scope to staff working with older adult residents. But the Department of Health and Social Care said ‘following the consultation it became clear’ the rule should be extended to all homes.
The rule will apply to all staff directly employed by the home or provider, as well as agency workers or volunteers deployed in the home. Anyone visiting the home to work – such as healthcare workers, tradespeople and hairdressers – must also follow the new regulations.
There will be 16 weeks from when the regulations are made to when they come into force to enable staff who haven’t been vaccinated to take up the jab.
A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson told Nursing in Practice that if a care home staff member eligible for the vaccine does not comply with the new guidelines, ‘they may be asked to find alternative employment that does not involve working in a care home’.
The spokesperson continued: ‘Under the regulations, unless a person satisfies one of the exemptions, they will not be permitted to enter the care home.’
The comment echoes warnings from care home leaders that the requirement could worsen existing recruitment and retention problems.
A sub-committee paper drafted by the DHSC, and leaked to the Telegraph in March, predicted that ‘large’ numbers of social care workers may quit if the change is made and warned lawsuits on human rights grounds could be possible.
Exceptions will be made for visiting family and friends, under 18s, emergency services and people undertaking urgent maintenance work.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘Vaccines save lives and while staff and residents in care homes have been prioritised and the majority are now vaccinated, we need to do everything we can to keep reducing the risk.
‘Through our consultation we have listened to the experiences and concerns of providers and people living and working in care homes to help shape our approach.’
Minister for care Helen Whately said: ‘The vaccine is working, with over 14,000 lives saved so far. It’s only right that we take every possible step to protect those most at risk now and in the long term.
‘I want to take this opportunity to urge everyone working in social care to take up the jab if they haven’t already to protect those they care for, themselves and those they work alongside.’
Chief Nurse for adult social care, Professor Deborah Sturdy said: ‘We are seeing vaccines are important in saving lives and it is absolutely vital that anyone who has not yet taken up the opportunity should do so to keep themselves and those they care for safe.’
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has recommended that 80% of staff and 90% of residents need to be vaccinated to provide a minimum level of protection against Covid outbreaks.
But the latest data, released yesterday, shows only 70.2% of older adult care home staff are fully vaccinated, while only 40.5% homes have at least 80% of their staff and 90% of their residents vaccinated with both doses.