UK Government Health Secretary Matt Hancock recently announced that all care home workers in England are likely to require to be vaccinated before being allowed to work in a care home setting.

The plans are set to come into force in October 2021 and are subject to UK Parliament approval and a 16-week grace period.

The rule will apply to all those working in CQC-registered care homes. Those with a medical exemption will not have to comply.

There is no indication that the Scottish Government is considering similar plans north of the border. However, the news has reignited the “no jab no job” debate with employers considering whether and how to mandate the vaccine amongst their workforce.

The advantages of mandating the vaccine in care homes seem obvious. The more employees who are vaccinated, the better the protection for those to whom care is provided, as well to their visitors and the employees themselves.

The families of those receiving care may also feel reassured that their loved one is being cared for by somebody who has received the vaccine.

The debate rages on however, and not everybody is happy about the new proposal.

It is suggested that mandating the vaccine will lead to a mass exodus of staff from care homes, creating staff shortages and, possibly, increases in the risks to the health and safety of residents and remaining employees.

If vaccines do become mandatory, and a care home either refuses to mandate or fails to take steps to ensure that all of its employees are vaccinated, that could attract the attention of the regulators such as the CQC and HSE - which may lead to enforcement action such as improvement notices, suspension of registrations and even prosecution.

Civil claims for compensation are also possible where there has been a Covid-related death or illness and there is evidence that it was contracted in the care home and that it was brought in by an unvaccinated person.

That seems a high bar to overcome, but insurers may ask for proof that staff are vaccinated before confirming the extent of any cover for such claims.

Employees may refuse to be vaccinated. Care home operators will need to manage that and also decide how to keep track of who has had the vaccine and who has not. GDPR issues come into play here.

The Scottish care sector has to date sought to develop a policy of information and encouragement rather than mandating. As at 24 June 2021 the PHS Covid-19 Daily Dashboard indicated that 100% of care home staff in Scotland had received both doses, so there seems to be no need to mandate.

That does not include new starts and may not include those who work occasionally in care homes, like GPs or other NHS staff.

The conversation on mandating in care homes in Scotland may not be over yet and this is a topic that will be high on all employer’s agendas looking to return to business as restrictions ease and create a Covid secure workplace for their employees.