Care home staff working with elderly people in England will have to be immunised against Covid-19 as a condition of keeping their jobs under government plans, potentially paving the way for compulsory vaccination of health workers too.
The Department of Health and Social Care is expected to launch a consultation on whether staff working in homes with people aged over 65 should be given 16 weeks to get the jab or risk the sack.
A separate consultation will examine whether flu jabs should also be made compulsory for the same workers. The moves were first reported by The Guardian.
Ministers have become increasingly concerned at Covid vaccine take-up rates in care homes, which they believe put some of the country’s most vulnerable people at additional risk of contracting the disease.
While overall about 80 per cent of care workers have had at least one jab, take-up has been lower in London, where staff tend to be younger.
A Whitehall source said: “We have a responsibility to safeguard vulnerable people in care homes and patients in hospitals. These moves would save lives.” There was a precedent in the requirement in that some frontline doctors have to have the hepatitis B vaccine, they pointed out.
An initial consultation on the idea carried out by DHSC ended recently and is understood to have attracted an unusually large number of submissions. The DHSC said: “Our priority is to make sure people in care homes are protected and we launched the consultation 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 results of the consultation would be published “in due course”, it said.
However, organisations representing care homes have consistently warned against making the vaccination compulsory out of fear staff might quit rather than get a jab, deepening workforce shortages.
The GMB union on Wednesday slammed the “ill thought through” plans and warned that more than a third of its carer members would consider resigning if vaccines were mandatory. The government should instead do more to address vaccine hesitancy, it said.
Rachel Harrison, GMB national officer, said steps the government could take included “ensuring more mobile NHS vaccination teams so those working night shifts can get the jab”.
Instead, ministers were “ploughing ahead with plans to strong-arm care workers into taking the vaccine without taking seriously the massive blocks these workers still face in getting jabbed”, she added.
Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, an industry body, said that if regulation was “the vehicle of choice”, it was essential that all the issues that would be thrown up by mandatory vaccination for social care staff should be “comprehensively addressed” before it was introduced.
“There must be central guidance, funding and leadership in helping to support adult social care providers in implementing the regulation. In other words, there must appropriate infrastructure support,” he added.