The Government’s plan to enforce mandatory vaccines for patient facing NHS staff is expected to be scrapped, after the health secretary announced a sharp change in direction at the eleventh hour.
Sajid Javid earlier this week confirmed the Government is set to launch a consultation on ending vaccination as a condition of deployment, days before the 3 February deadline for first doses.
In a statement to Parliament (31 January), he said he personally believes it is ‘no longer proportionate’ to require vaccination through statute.
The U-turn on the regulation – which would see all patient-facing staff double vaccinated by 1 April – is expected to cause much frustration among NHS managers, with organisations calling for urgent guidance to support the change.
Ahead of the anticipated scrapping, Management in Practice looks at the details practice managers need to know.
Is the mandate officially scrapped?
No. On Monday, the health secretary confirmed only that the policy would be axed subject to consultation and parliamentary approval.
However, it is understood to be the Government’s intention to end the plan entirely.
Despite this, the DHSC has subsequently reminded that technically the law remains in place until it is revoked with agreement from MPs.
How long will the consultation last?
The public consultation is yet to launch, however the DHSC has told Management in Practice it hopes the process will take weeks rather than months.
Do new staff need to be vaccinated?
Employers should continue to ask for vaccination status as part of their pre-employment health checks, in line with current legislation and NHS Employers employment check standards.
This is because the legislation’s removal is still subject to consultation.
Can I hire someone who would not consider getting the vaccine?
Employers are advised to include the requirement for vaccination in their job adverts for in-scope roles and should note that this is under legislative review.
Do staff still need to be vaccinated by the deadlines?
The mandate has set a 1 April deadline, meaning staff need their first dose by 3 February, and their second dose by 31 March.
Mr Javid confirmed these deadlines will not be enforced.
Are my staff still at risk of dismissal?
Under previously issued NHS England guidance, practice managers were advised to prepare for formal meetings with staff on their deployment if they chose to remain unvaccinated.
NHSE has now asked employers to not serve notice of termination to employees affected by the mandate.
What if staff have resigned?
Employers are encouraged to contact staff who may have resigned because of the mandate to discuss the consultation, as soon as possible.
If someone is in their notice period, staff should be asked if they would like to continue, pause or withdraw their resignation.
If the person’s notice has expired, an employer can provide ‘reasonable support’ and extend an offer to re-engage them to their former role, and on the same terms and conditions of employment.
The employer must demonstrate consistency to ensure a fair process is given to all applicable staff.
Will the CQC update its approach?
The initial regulation was set to be monitored and enforced by the CQC, under its existing assessment approach.
It was expected that managers would need to demonstrate they have systems in place to ensure eligible staff are vaccinated, as per the mandate.
Mr Javid has now asked professional regulators to urgently review their current guidance ‘to emphasise their professional responsibilities in this area’.
Why the sudden change?
Mr Javid told Parliament that the statute was first proposed in response to the severity of the then-dominant Delta variant.
He said it is ‘only right’ for the policy to be reviewed given the now-dominant Omicron variant is ‘intrinsically less severe’.
It followed a week of speculation that the Government intended to backtrack.
How has the sector responded?
Mandatory vaccines have remained a divisive point since the policy was first passed in November.
Organisations such as the RCGP stood steadfast against the mandate – believing it could lead to ‘resentment and mistrust’ – whereas the NHS Confederation believed ‘most health leaders support the introduction of a mandate’.
The U-turn has, in large part, been welcomed, but with heavy criticism as to the Government’s handling of the situation.
Both the RCGP and BMA approved the decision, citing the potential impact mass dismissals would have on the NHS.
NHS Providers and the NHS Confederation called on the Government for urgent guidance, noting the complex work NHS leaders will have already put in.
Most unions, like GMB and Unite, called for a swift consultation to curb any uncertainty, while Unison called on Mr Javid to apologise for the policy.
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