UK's health and social care providers required to ensure workers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19

Health and social care providers in England will be required to ensure workers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, unless they are exempt, under plans announced by the Health and Social Care Secretary.

Ensuring the maximum number of NHS staff are vaccinated will help ensure the most vulnerable patients gain the greatest possible levels of protection against infection. Elderly people, those with disabilities and some seriously ill people in hospital face a higher risk from COVID-19 than the wider population, and are more likely to use health and care services more often.

The measures will also protect workers, which is important for hospital trusts where extensive unexpected absences can put added pressure on already hardworking clinicians providing patient care.

The vaccination program has been successful in weakening the link between infection, hospitalization and deaths. Findings from the REACT study have shown fully vaccinated people were estimated to have around 50% to 60% reduced risk of infection, including asymptomatic infection, compared to unvaccinated people.

The regulations will apply to health and social care workers who have direct, face-to-face contact with people while providing care - such as doctors, nurses, dentists and domiciliary care workers, unless they are exempt.

They will also apply to ancillary staff such as porters or receptionists who may have social contact with patients but are not directly involved in their care. This will apply across the CQC-regulated health and social care sector.

The majority of NHS workers are already vaccinated, as over 92.8% have had their first dose and 89.9% have had both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. In social care, 83.7% of domiciliary care workers have had their first dose and 74.6% have had both doses.

Latest published data shows, however, that over 103,000 NHS Trust workers and 105,000 domiciliary care workers have not been reported as fully vaccinated and the government is urging them to take up the offer now, to keep themselves and those they care for safe.

The requirements will come into force in the spring, subject to the passage of the regulations through Parliament. There will be a 12-week grace period between the regulations being made and coming into force to allow those who have not yet been vaccinated to have both doses. Enforcement would begin from 1 April, subject to parliamentary approval.

This will allow time for health and social care providers to prepare and encourage workers uptake before the measures are introduced.

There is a longstanding precedent for vaccination in NHS roles. Workplace health and safety and occupational health policies are already in place to ensure those undertaking exposure-prone procedures are vaccinated against Hepatitis B - such as surgeons, because of the potential health risk.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said:

Vaccines save lives and patient safety is paramount. Many of the people being treated in hospitals or cared for at home are the most vulnerable to COVID-19. We have a responsibility to give patients and staff the best possible protection.

We have consulted closely with the sector and will introduce new regulations to ensure people working in healthcare are vaccinated from next spring.

I want thank everyone who works in health and social care for the amazing work they do. If you haven't come forward for your jab yet, please do so. We are determined to support you in this process."

The measure is an extension to previously announced regulations making COVID-19 vaccination a condition of deployment for staff working in CQC-registered care homes in England, which comes into force on 11 November 2021.

Vaccination remains the single strongest protection against COVID-19, and it is essential every health or social care worker takes up the offer of a vaccine to protect themselves, their colleagues and patients.

Data from UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective against hospitalization from the Delta (B.1.617.2) variant. The analysis shows the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 96% effective and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is 92% effective against hospitalization after two doses.

Early results from Pfizer show that a booster following a primary schedule of the same vaccine restores protection back up to 95.6% against symptomatic infection.

Affected workers will have the coming months to prepare and the government and NHS continues to work to increase uptake, including among groups where uptake is lower, and to make every effort to ensure NHS and social care workers have the support they need this winter and into the future.

Amanda Pritchard, NHS Chief Executive said:

The NHS has always been clear that staff should get the life-saving covid vaccination to protect themselves, their loved ones and their patients and the overwhelming majority have already done so.

Working with NHS organizations, we will continue to support staff who have not yet received the vaccination to take up the evergreen offer."

Vaccines are available free of charge and from thousands of vaccine centers, GP practices and pharmacies.

Around 98% of people live within 10 miles of a vaccination center in England and vaccinations are taking place at sites including mosques, community centers and football stadiums.

There are more than 500 extra vaccination sites now compared to April this year, with 1,697 vaccination centers in operation in April 2021, and over 2,200 vaccination centers in operation now.

The NHS continues to take a targeted approach to improve uptake, as well as using the booster campaign as an opportunity to reengage staff. This includes extensive work with ethnic minority and faith networks, one to one conversations with line managers, and the use of walk-ins, pop-ups and other ways to make getting vaccinated as easy as possible.

Chief Nurse for Adult Social Care Deborah Sturdy said:

We know that vaccines save lives which is why earlier this year we set out our plans to make vaccines a condition of deployment in care homes to protect those who are more vulnerable to this virus.

Today's announcement to extend these regulations will ensure all those who access regulated social care are afforded maximum protection from COVID-19.

I encourage anyone working in social care who has not yet had their vaccine to come forward as soon as possible to protect yourselves, your colleagues and those you care for."

There are currently record numbers of nurses and doctors working in the NHS, with over 304,700 and 126,600 respectively.

The Spending Review also committed funding to keep building a bigger, better trained NHS workforce, including support for some of the biggest undergraduate intakes of medical students and nurses ever and reaffirming the government's commitment for 50,000 more nurses.

NHS staff are also benefiting from increased mental health support following the pandemic. The regulations will be published shortly.

While the policy will not apply to COVID-19 boosters or the flu vaccine at this time, the government will keep this under review, and if necessary, bring forward amendments to the regulations.



The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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