The health secretary has confirmed that health service workers in England will have to be fully vaccinated from April 2022 or risk losing their jobs. This will bring the NHS into line with the care home sector, where the final day for care home staff to prove that they’d had two doses of the vaccination or have an exemption was Thursday 11 November 2021, failing which they would not be able to enter a care home.
It has been reported that the health secretary has said that, whilst around 90% of NHS staff have already had both vaccines, about 103,000 have not, and in some trusts only 80% have been double-vaccinated. Many of those who have not yet been vaccinated are understood to be younger women who are or hope to become pregnant, or those from a minority ethnic background.
The decision is understood to have followed a consultation which considered whether both the covid and flu vaccinations should be compulsory. The government have decided not to move forward with mandatory flu vaccination at this stage; however, compulsory covid vaccinations are due to be in to force 12 weeks after parliamentary approval, which is likely to be April 2022.
Any individual working for the NHS in England must have received the complete course of an approved Covid-19 vaccine by the deadline date, which is yet to be confirmed. The only anticipated exceptions to this are for either a medical exemption evidencing that vaccination is not recommended or for those who do not have face-to-face contact with patients in their role for the NHS.
It is possible that the proposed regulations will apply in the same was as they have been applied to the care home sector, with vaccination evidence required whether the individual is a volunteer, employed by the NHS or an agency worker. In addition, any third-party professional working on an NHS premises caring for patients will also need to observe the regulations.
It is likely that the proposed regulations will be applied to NHS visitors in the same way as they have been applied to care homes, with visitors exempt.
This will be a challenging period for employers on an emotive subject ahead of the proposed deadline in April 2022 and as such, it would be good practice for relevant employers to start engaging with staff, sooner rather than later. The number of workers that will be clinically exempt is likely to be small. Employers of unvaccinated staff in patient facing NHS roles will need to carefully consider how to manage individuals who do not have a medical exemption and refuse to have a complete course of the vaccine by the proposed deadline. If dismissal is contemplated, employers must ensure that they follow a fair procedure, which in this case will mean meeting with the employee to explain the consequences and gain an understanding of why they are not vaccinated and whether they intend to get vaccinated. Any dismissed employee should be provided with a right of appeal and prior to dismissal the employer should consider whether there are any viable alternatives to dismissal (such as redeployment to a role which does not require them to be vaccinated).
We will of course provide further information via these alerts once further information is published by the government.
If you have any queries relating to the vaccination of employees or any other Employment Law or HR queries, please do not hesitate to contact our Employment team on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.