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10 November 2021

The Government announced yesterday that it will make new laws requiring those deployed in frontline roles in the wider healthcare sector in England to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Care home workers in England are already under this requirement. 

Who is affected?

The new regulations will apply to all health and adult social care staff in England, including volunteers, agency workers and students, who have face-to-face contact with patients and who are directly involved in patient care which comes under CQC regulation. This will include clinical staff and ancillary staff, such as porters and receptionists, who may have social contact with patients. Hospitals, pharmacies, GP surgeries, dental practices, ambulance trusts, mental health establishments and community care organisations are amongst the affected settings.

The Regulations, subject to parliamentary approval, will come into force on 1 April 2022. Failure to provide evidence of vaccination or clinical exemption must result in redeployment to non-frontline roles where this is possible, or dismissal where it is not. 

The consultation had also considered whether the affected category of workers should also be required to have the flu vaccine. It was confirmed that this will not be required although this decision will be kept under review with the potential for it to be introduced at a later date.

Are there any exemptions?

Medical exemptions will be given where vaccination is not clinically appropriate, for example, for individuals with pre-existing medical conditions or allergies. The government has said it will provide more detailed guidance, but it will likely follow the exemptions which are already in place for CQC regulated care homes, in line with consultation from the JCVI and the Green Book on Immunisation against Infectious Disease.  Those with short-term medical conditions and pregnant workers are allowed a short-term medical exemption. For pregnant women, this exemption will expire 16 weeks post-partum. Affected staff should use the NHS Covid Pass Service to apply for a permanent medical exemption. Additionally, those who are taking part, or have previously taken part, in a clinical trial for a Covid vaccine will be exempt, as well as workers who are under the age of 18. No exemption will be given to those who refuse the vaccine due to religious beliefs.  

A deadline of 1 April 2022 gives organisations time to prepare and put measures in place to obtain evidence from affected staff and some healthcare providers may have already undertaken a similar exercise in relation to their care home workers.

Although dismissal may be inevitable in some cases where redeployment is not possible, a full and fair process to get to that stage is required. Organisations should remember that an unfair dismissal claim can be made based on a faulty procedure, even when the reason for dismissal is a good one.