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8 October 2021

The government has launched a new NHS Covid Pass System which employees are expected to use to evidence their Covid status and apply for a permanent medical exemption. This will be particularly important for care home workers/volunteers in England who have self-certified a temporary exemption from the Covid vaccine but want to continue working inside the care home past its expiry date.

The NHS Covid Pass was announced on 1 October 2021, so the 12-week temporary exemption period is now running. This means that full exemption is needed before 24 December 2021; people who are not fully exempt (including short-term exemptions) by that date will need to be redeployed or dismissed. However, employers should keep in mind that a full and fair dismissal process must first be completed before any action is taken, to safeguard against employment tribunal claims for unfair dismissal.

Applying for permanent medical exemption

To apply for a permanent medical exemption, employees should phone the NHS Covid Pass service on 119 and ask for an application form. They will need to give their name, date of birth, NHS number (if known) and the name of their GP/clinician. If they are eligible, they will receive an application form by post. This form should be completed by the employee and submitted to their GP or relevant clinician for review. Employees will automatically be sent the results of their application by post 2-3 weeks after applying. The decision is final and cannot be appealed. Employers will not be directly involved in the application process but might want to remind their teams to use this.

Short-term exemptions will be available for people with short-term medical conditions. For example, people who are receiving hospital care, waiting for an operation or on medication which could interact with the vaccine.

Pregnant women will also be given a short-term exemption but can use their MATB1 certificate as evidence of this, they don’t need to apply for an NHS Covid Pass. It will expire 16-weeks post-partum, to give them time to become fully vaccinated after the birth. Employees on maternity leave may choose to wait longer to get the vaccine but employers can expect them to have it before returning to work. They will not be able to enter the care home after the 16-week period has passed, including to attend a keeping in touch (KIT) day.

Using the NHS Covid Pass

Individuals can use the NHS Covid Pass (through the NHS app or website) as evidence that their permanent medical exemption was approved. The Pass will look and work the same for people with medical exemptions as it will for people who are fully vaccinated; it won’t show that someone has a medical exemption. Employers only need to receive the Pass to allow their staff to keep working in the care home, regardless of whether they got it due to vaccination or exemption.  

What happens if permanent medical exemption is denied?

There does not appear to be anything in the government guidance to say that an employee will have to leave their care home role straight away if their application for permanent medical exemption is refused. It is expected that they will still have until the end of the 12-week self-certification period before they have to be redeployed or dismissed. Employers should use this time to assess whether there are any alternative roles the person could do and prepare for hiring replacements into leavers’ positions.