The government will scrap mandatory Covid vaccination for health and social care staff, subject to consultation, health and social care secretary Sajid Javid said today.
The policy, requiring staff to be double jabbed, has been in place in care homes since November and, according to the government’s own estimates, has cost the workforce 40,000 staff.
It was due to come into force in other regulated social care settings – as well as across healthcare – in April, with the government estimating a loss of 35,000 home care staff.
Amid mounting calls from NHS and social care leaders for the policy to be scrapped, Javid said the government would do so, subject to a consultation, launched today.
He said the government was changing course because population immunity was higher than at the time the policy was introduced and the now dominant Omicron variant was less severe than the previous Delta strain of the coronavirus.
‘Greater population protection’
“When taken together with the first factor – that we now have greater population protection the evidence shows that the risk of presentation to emergency care or hospital admission with Omicron is approximately half of that for Delta,” he said.
Javid defended the policy’s impact to date, saying 22,000 care home staff and 10,000 home care workers had been vaccinated since September, when the government launched its consultation on extending compulsion to health and social care settings beyond care homes.
He also said that vaccination remained a “professional duty” for health and social care staff and that, in order to promote this, he had:
- Written to professional regulators across health asking them to review their guidance on vaccination with a view to emphasising the importance of getting jabbed against Covid.
- Asked the NHS to review staff policies on hiring staff and deploying existing workers, taking into account vaccination status.
- Asked Department of Health and Social Care officials to consult on reviewing its code of practice on the prevention and control of infections, which applies to all Care Quality Commission-registered providers, to strengthen Covid-19 requirements.
Deepening workforce gaps
Mandatory vaccination has been roundly condemned by social care provider and staff organisations for exacerbating already significant workforce gaps across the sector.
Vacancies across the sector rose from 9.2% to 9.4%, from November to December 2021, up from 6.1% in May, while the number of posts filled in services fell to 3.7% below March 2021 levels, according to data from Skills for Care. The situation is particularly bad in care homes where the number of filled posts among care workers has dipped by 6.1% since March last year.
Following Javid’s announcement today, provider body Care England tweeted that mandatory vaccination ad been imposed on care homes “without due consideration or support”.
Policy imposed on care home sector without due consideration or support. Unintended consequences staff leaving sector, some to NHS, exacerbating pre existing recruitment & retention challenges leading to disruption to the delivery of health & care services https://t.co/3cpYot2ciW
— Care England 💚 (@CareEngland) January 31, 2022
UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said the decision was the right thing to do but “it shouldn’t have taken the government so long to realise the huge mistake it was making”.
‘Thousands forced from jobs’
“Thousands of care workers have been forced from jobs they love, leaving employers struggling. Many staff will also have quit the NHS ahead of this week’s deadline.
“These ill-thought-out rules have worsened the staffing crisis, hampering the NHS and social care, and caused significant upset.
“Huge amounts of time and resources, which employers could have spent persuading staff to be vaccinated and on patient care, have been wasted.”
Meanwhile, home care leaders raised concerns about the timing of the consultation given that unvaccinated would need to have their first jabs by Thursday of this week (3 February) in order to have had their second by the deadline of 31 March.
Homecare Association chief executive Jane Towson tweeted that some providers were already starting dismissal processes in order to meet the deadlines, and that the DHSC had not provided guidance on what they should do.
We asked what providers are supposed to do while waiting for the outcome of the consultation, given that deadline for 1st jab is this Thurs 3 Feb 22 and dismissal processes have already started for staff with longer notice periods & others will shortly follow. Blank looks…
— Jane Townson (@drjanetownson) January 31, 2022