Mandatory coronavirus vaccination in health and care sectors

What is the impact of mandatory vaccinations on the private healthcare sector? Employers in the healthcare sector should start planning now. Our Legal expert, Jennifer Mansoor, explains.

Mandatory coronavirus vaccination in the care home sector in England

All adult care home staff and volunteers in England must now be fully vaccinated against coronavirus, excluding those who are medically exempt or are taking part in a clinical trial. This includes front line care staff and tradespeople, hairdressers, beauticians and CQC inspectors visiting the care home. However, this requirement will not extend to friends and relatives visiting a resident or to those entering to assist with an emergency or carrying out urgent maintenance work.

It is unlawful for CQC regulated care homes in England to employ staff working in the care home who are not vaccinated against coronavirus unless they are medically exempt or taking part in a clinical trial. However, individuals who have not previously been employed or engaged in the care home can be deployed if they have received a single dose at least 21 days before starting work but they must obtain their second dose within 10 weeks of the first.

Introduction of mandatory coronavirus vaccination for frontline health and social care workers in England 

Vaccination against coronavirus will also become mandatory for health and social care workers in England who have face-to-face contact with patients unless they are medically exempt or taking part in a clinical trial. This requirement will apply to doctors, nurses and dentists who are directly involved in patient care, and to ancillary staff such as porters, receptionists and cleaners who may have contact with patients in the course of their work. 

From 1 April 2022, it will be unlawful for CQC regulated providers in health and social care in England to employ unvaccinated staff who have direct patient contact except for those individuals who are medically exempt or are taking part in a clinical trial. Although, as with care homes, new hires can be deployed if they have received a single dose at least 21 days before starting work although they must receive their second dose with 10 weeks of their first.

To comply with the new regulations, unvaccinated staff will need to have had their first dose of the vaccine by 3 February 2022 - since the current advice is that vaccines should be given 8 weeks apart. 

Medical exemptions 

The Government has announced that a MATB1 stands as a medical exemption, for pregnant workers who prefer not to be vaccinated, until 16 weeks following the birth of their child. Whilst the coronavirus vaccine has been declared safe for pregnant women, and they have been encouraged to take up the vaccine, the Government is allowing pregnant women to choose to delay their vaccination until after birth. As pregnant women do not obtain a MATB1 until later in their pregnancy, presumably those unvaccinated who prefer not to take the vaccine during their pregnancy can apply for a medical exemption on pregnancy grounds to cover their position until the MATB1 is available. 

Health and care sector employers should consider informing any pregnant staff of the MATB1 position. Were any medical exemption to be granted to a pregnant worker (pre receipt of their MATB1), any action by an employer to treat an employee with a pregnancy-related medical exemption less favourably than a worker with a non-pregnancy-related medical exemption, will be unlawful and could amount to discrimination.

What should employers in the health and care sector be doing now? 

To meet the current vaccination deadline of 1 April 2022, all CQC regulated providers in health and social care in England, including the NHS, will need to begin a communication process with their staff now to ascertain their vaccination status and encourage those that have not been vaccinated to do so if they are not medically exempt or taking part in a clinical trial.  

If staff refuse to be vaccinated, and they do not qualify for an exemption, employers will need to consider redeployment and/or explore if there is a way the worker’s role can be redesigned to remove patient contact or as a last resort termination of employment for those workers who refuse to be vaccinated and for whom redeployment/role redesign is not an option. This could involve a risk assessment of which parts of the organisation could be most affected, how they might then redeploy and any other terms’ impact such as on hours or remuneration. Remote working without access to frontline patient care or to patients might also be a consideration for some workers.  

Health and social care employers should include the vaccination requirement in their recruitment policies and job adverts, update their candidate privacy notices and properly understand any medical exemptions during the recruitment process. 

CQC regulated care homes in England should also be updating their agreements with their service providers to include the vaccination requirement for individuals visiting the care homes for work related purposes. 

Finally, employers in the health and care sectors in England should implement robust policies which clearly outline the vaccination requirement for staff and, in relation to care homes, also for any professionals visiting the care home and that entry will not be permitted without evidence of vaccination or a medical exemption. The vaccination policy should also set out the employer’s data protection obligations in relation to processing special category personal data about vaccination status. 

If you have any questions about mandatory vaccination of staff in the health and care sector, please contact Jennifer Mansoor or Carolyn Brown

 

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