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UK to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for care home staff

They are considering rolling this out across the whole NHS.

Allie Nawrat

Leader

UK COVID-19 vaccines
Credit: Jaime Estévez via Unsplash.

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  • The UK government is planning to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for care home staff in England.
  • This is mainly because the uptake has not been as high as the government would like.
  • Will this leave the government open to legal challenges?

Houston Methodist, a hospital in Texas, recently made headlines for suspending almost 200 members of staff for not having received two COVID-19 vaccine doses.

This is because the hospital mandates that its employees be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or face the sack. Unsurprisingly, many of the unvaccinated Houston Methodist employees are unhappy about this situation and have filed a lawsuit against the hospital.

But, earlier this week, the hospital’s position was buttressed by a judge in Texas ruling against the employees and in favor of the hospital.  

[Read more: Another win for US employers mandating COVID-19 vaccines]

Now the UK government is considering mandating that all staff who work in English care homes for the elderly are vaccinated against COVID-19, unless they are medically exempt.

This is linked to the lower than hoped uptake of COVID-19 vaccines by care home staff in England. Although care home staff have had access to COVID-19 vaccines for around six months, as of 10 June, only 68.7% across England have had both doses.

The BBC reported that the government has set a desired threshold of 80% of care home staff being vaccinated to properly protect care home residents and patients.

According to reporting by the Guardian, the plan is for English care home workers to be given 16 weeks to get vaccinated. If they don’t comply, they could be relocated away from the frontline or lose their jobs altogether.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told the Guardian:

“Vaccines are our way out of this pandemic and have already saved thousands of lives, with millions of health and care staff vaccinated.

“Our priority is to make sure people in care homes are protected and we launched the consultation [in April] to get views on whether and how the government might take forward a new requirement for adult care home providers, looking after older people, to only deploy staff who have had a Covid-19 vaccination or have an appropriate exemption.

“The consultation ended on Wednesday 26 May and we will publish our response in due course.”

However, care organizations have already expressed concern about the impact this requirement could have on the care sector, which already struggles to recruit new staff.

UK government ministers are also believed to be considering extending this to all NHS staff, although uptake of vaccines among general NHS staff is much higher than in care homes.

One NHS boss told the Guardian: “If you are going to go down this route of mandation for NHS staff, you will get into a direct confrontation with a group of staff who you’re forcing to do this at a time when you’re denying them a decent pay rise but also saying how much you love them.

“The government hasn’t thought through the consequences of this.

“Hospital trusts could end up having to suspend or even dismiss members of staff who continue to refuse to be vaccinated against Covid in defiance of a policy requiring them to get jabbed.”

In addition, it is possible that mandating COVID-19 vaccination could lead the government to face a legal battle with NHS and care home staff in the European Court of Human Rights.

The question remains whether private employers in the UK will follow suit and implement mandatory COVID-19 requirements, and whether equalities law will allow them to do that.

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