14 December 2021
Leading audit, tax and consulting firm RSM UK is urging employers in the NHS and private healthcare to take steps now to fulfil their legal responsibilities, as time is running out to meet the requirements of the government’s Covid-19 vaccination programme as a condition of employment.
In England, it is already compulsory for all adult care home staff and volunteers to be fully vaccinated, unless medically exempt. This includes third parties visiting care homes such as tradespeople, hairdressers and beauticians. This requirement will extend to anyone working in health and social care who has face-to-face patient contact, including doctors and nurses, dentists, receptionists, porters, cleaners and domiciliary care workers from 1 April 2022.
As jabs must be given at least eight weeks apart, this means employees currently have until 3 February 2022 to get their first vaccine. The Government has stated that there will be a 12-week grace period between the regulations being passed by Parliament planned for 6 January 2022, and their coming into force. This will allow time for those who have not yet been vaccinated to have both doses. At present, the planned regulations will not require evidence of boosters, but employers are strongly advised to encourage workers to have their booster vaccine when eligible.
All care providers regulated by the CQC (Care Quality Commission) will need to include the Covid-19 vaccination requirements in recruitment processes, including job adverts, ensuring all applicants fully understand the requirements.
Carolyn Brown, employment legal partner and head of Client Legal Services at RSM said: ‘The government’s Covid-19 vaccination requirement for healthcare workers in England who have direct patient contact puts added pressure on the sector at a time when it is already feeling the strain. We want to support healthcare providers in navigating their new employment legal obligations, ensuring they can continue providing safe, high-quality care. Inevitably the vaccination compulsion for healthcare workers in England will mean further staffing challenges, as those who choose not to be vaccinated may well leave their roles. We have already seen this happen in care homes, and some of those who have moved to other types of caring roles to avoid vaccination may now leave the care sector entirely.
‘Where employees working in a CQC regulated setting refuse to get vaccinated, employers can consider removing patient contact through redeployment, although in many cases this may be difficult to implement in practice. In some cases, termination of employment may be considered as the last resort. Carers wanting to avoid job loss will need to get their jabs or seek an exemption certificate from their GP, so its essential employers make all those affected aware of this requirement.’
The new rules are also expected to put further pressure on GPs as care home workers, who until now have been allowed to self-certify as exempt from vaccination, will need a GP certificate to verify exemption after Christmas. Although form MATB1 will give automatic exemption for pregnant employees, this is not provided until the later stages of pregnancy, therefore pregnant workers who prefer to remain unvaccinated will still need to seek a GP exemption certificate.
RSM UK is recommending healthcare employers in England take the following steps now to ensure they remain compliant from an employment law perspective as compulsory Covid-19 vaccinations are introduced.
- Communicate the new rules with all staff, including new recruits, to ensure they fully understand what they need to do and the implications of not being vaccinated
- Obtain vaccination status from all relevant staff members and keep confidential, up to date GDPR compliant records of this
- For those who refuse vaccination, and are not medically exempt, consider redeployment or redesign of their role. Termination of employment should be considered a last resort.
- CQC regulated care home providers should update their agreements with service providers such as tradespeople to include vaccination requirements for individuals visiting the care home for work purposes
- Agree arrangements with suppliers of temporary, agency or bank workers, education institutions who provide students and any other partners who supply workers or volunteers who will need to show evidence of vaccination to be deployed
- Employers affected should implement robust policies that clearly define the vaccination requirement for staff and also any professionals visiting the care home or CQC regulated setting.