Care home workers face compulsory Covid vaccinations

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Henry Bodkin
·5 min read
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Covid vaccine doses are prepared at a care home in Bournemouth earlier this year - BNPS
Covid vaccine doses are prepared at a care home in Bournemouth earlier this year - BNPS
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

Ministers have formally threatened mandatory vaccination for care home workers after new figures showed that just half of facilities pass the safety threshold.

On Wednesday, the Government announced provisional plans to force care homes to include a requirement to be vaccinated in contracts with staff. The move, subject to a five-week consultation, would apply to all workers in homes for the elderly other than those who can prove an exemption.

It comes as the Department for Health and Social Care said just 53 per cent of older adult homes in England currently have a staff vaccination rate of 80 per cent and a resident vaccination rate of 90 per cent.

The thresholds are the minimum levels of protection advised by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) to suppress Covid outbreaks. It means 150,000 vulnerable people are currently living in homes with unsafe levels of vaccination.

Meanwhile, the staff vaccination rate is below 80 per cent in 89 local authority areas – more than half – including all 32 of London's boroughs. Within these are 27 local authority areas with a staff vaccination rate below 70 per cent.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said: "Older people living in care homes are most at risk of suffering serious consequences of Covid-19, and we have seen the grave effects the virus has had on this group.

Matt Hancock - House of Commons/PA
Matt Hancock - House of Commons/PA

"Making vaccines a condition of deployment is something many care homes have called for to help them provide greater protection for staff and residents in older people's care homes and so save lives.

"The vaccine is already preventing deaths and is our route out of this pandemic. We have a duty of care to those most vulnerable to Covid-19, so it is right we consider all options to keep people safe."

The consultation will seek views on how mandatory vaccination could be implemented and who should be exempt.

Last month, The Telegraph revealed that the historic legal change had been agreed by both Boris Johnson and Mr Hancock, suggesting the measure will be introduced following the consultation.

However, legally forcing tens of thousands of workers to get a jab raises significant legal and moral questions, and ministers have previously called similar ideas "discriminatory".

Proposals to make jabs mandatory for care home workers have been dealt a blow after the government’s independent equalities watchdog said they may not be lawful.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commision (EHRC) told the Cabinet Office that Covid status certificates currently being considered by ministers risk creating a “two-tier” society” and could amount to unlawful discrimination.

Prof Martin Green OBE, the Care England chief executive, said: "We have been really impressed how care providers have worked with their staff to listen to their concerns about the vaccine, and this has had a very positive effect with a good take-up.

"The sector is divided on whether or not vaccination should be mandatory, but it is wholly united in its support for the vaccine and has done everything it can to persuade its residents and staff to have it.

"Should the vaccine be mandatory for adult social care staff working in care homes for older people, it begs the question whether it should not be mandatory for the NHS, those working in other care home settings, supported living, hospices etc as well."

Latest UK vaccine numbers: rollout figures
Latest UK vaccine numbers: rollout figures

Some care home providers have already announced plans to introduce the policy as a condition of employment, including Barchester Healthcare, one of Britain's largest. Last month, it revealed that it had become the first major company to introduce an app-based system of vaccine passports among its staff.

Dr Pete Calveley, Barchester's chief executive, welcomed the government measure, saying: "As the chief medical officer has said, it is a professional duty for care home staff to accept the vaccine unless there is a medical reason they should not.

"As time has progressed, the safety, efficacy and transmission-reduction evidence has become ever stronger, which supports our initial view. For those reasons, we support the proposal by the DHSC to open a consultation on this important matter and strongly encourage other providers to support this proposal."

The potential move comes in the face of significant but improving vaccine hesitancy among sections of the population. The latest survey from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that 22 per cent of black British adults had concerns about taking the jab, down from 44 per cent a month before.

Previous ONS research had shown that black people of African origin were five and a half times more likely not to have received a Covid jab compared to white British people, with those of Caribbean origin nearly four times more likely.

It came as Prof Green claimed some excess deaths in care homes during the pandemic were "undoubtedly" caused by the "isolation and disconnection" of residents being unable to see loved ones.

He told MPs on the Human Rights Committee that switching to virtual contact through Zoom calls was not the same as "physical contact", adding that many people had declined significantly during the virus crisis.

"Undoubtedly some of those deaths would have been about that isolation and disconnection from the people they love," he said. "But there also a range of excess deaths that may have been about the fact that no interventions by the NHS was happening when people were getting things like UTIs [urinary tract infection] that might have resulted in them going to hospital."