The Government’s new vaccine mandate for NHS staff will see practice managers tasked with a number of new responsibilities, including the need to risk assess and potentially redeploy staff, NHS England has said.
It comes as part of a suite of new guidance, published by NHSE, to assist the implementation of the Government’s vaccine mandate for health workers, which is due to come into effect on 1 April.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced in November that Covid-19 vaccination as a condition of deployment (VOCD) would be introduced for all patient-facing staff in the health sector.
However, some unions have called on the Government to immediately delay its plans in order to avoid a ‘catastrophic impact’ on staffing.
But the health secretary told Parliament last week that the Government remains committed to implementing the policy on 1 April.
Ahead of its implementation, Management in Practice looks at what practice managers need to know and how the new policy might work.
What are the deadlines?
Mandatory vaccination will take effect from 1 April, with a 12-week grace period to allow those currently unvaccinated to begin their course.
To meet the April deadline, staff must get their first dose by 3 February, and their second dose by 31 March.
If staff believe they are exempt, they must provide evidence by 31 March.
Who is exempt?
The regulation applies to all patient-facing staff, including those in clinical and non-clinical roles, unless they are exempt. The five exemptions cover staff who:
- Do not have direct face-to-face contact with patients
- Are under 18-years-old
- Have or are currently participating in a clinical trial for a Covid vaccine
- Should not be vaccinated for clinical reasons
- Are pregnant and have a temporary medical exemption.
Risk assessing staff
Managers will be expected to undertake risk assessments for their staff to determine who falls in or out of the regulation’s scope, NHSE has said.
This should be completed with consideration for the exemptions and previously published planning and preparation guidance.
Where a practice has a staff member who is exempt, the practice manager should consider reviewing whether additional measures are required to protect other staff and patients.
What if staff can’t meet the deadline?
People who have recently had Covid-19 must wait 28 days before getting a vaccine, which could mean staff will miss the 3 February deadline.
In these circumstances, the staff member will be considered ‘temporarily exempt’ for 42 days, comprising a 28-day grace period and 14 days to get their first dose.
Practice managers should ask for evidence of their positive status and should remind the staff member to book their vaccine appointment as soon as possible.
Will staff be fired?
According to the guidance, employers ‘will need to consider the termination of employment’ of staff who refuse to be vaccinated and who are not exempt.
However, managers should consider a person’s reasons for not having a vaccine – which might include cultural and religious beliefs or personal experiences – and examine other options available.
Redeployment should be considered, but ‘may not be feasible or practical’ for ‘many providers’.
If an alternative solution is not possible, staff should be taken through the formal dismissal process. Employment solicitor Ffion Jenkins has said consultations with employees should begin now, rather than delaying until nearer Spring 2022.
If a staff member’s notice period extends beyond 1 April, they should also be removed from patient-facing roles or placed on leave.
Does pay protection apply?
Pay protection does not apply for staff members’ basic salary or additional earnings in instances where staff have been redeployed under the VCOD.
However, staff who are temporarily redeployed ‘due to not being fully vaccinated for good reason’ until shortly after 1 April may still be eligible.
Staff consent to vaccine data
Organisations will not need to obtain staff’s consent before accessing the National Immunisation Management Service (IMS) database.
Under the control of patient information (COPI) notice, NHS organisations have a legal basis to access confidential patient information needed to support the pandemic response.
Evidence of vaccination can be obtained by asking staff directly or checking central databases that record data from the national vaccination programme.
Read more about what to do when practice staff refuse to get a Covid-19 vaccine here.
Source: Vaccination as a condition of deployment (VCOD) for healthcare workers: Phase 2 – VCOD implementation
Source: Vaccination as a condition of deployment (VCOD) for healthcare workers: frequently asked questions