Sajid Javid image
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid

Regulations making vaccines a condition of deployment for health and social care staff are set to be revoked, subject to public consultation and parliamentary approval, the Health and Social Care Secretary has announced.

In November 2021, the UK Government announced a legal requirement for frontline health and social care workers to be double jabbed by 1 April 2022. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said this mandatory requirement would help ensure the most vulnerable patients gain the greatest possible levels of protection against coronavirus infection.

At the time, this legislation gained a very mixed reaction from major health and social care organisations.

Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive at the NHS Confederation, believed that this mandatory requirement was a positive move as it prevents patients from getting avoidable infection from what he said was set to be the “most challenging winter on record”.

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In contrast, Karen Middleton, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy Chief Executive, opposed the decision, saying that a lack of available alternatives was unfair, and that it could prove to be a counterproductive decision when the NHS was already under extreme pressure.

William Lee, Policy & Parliamentary Executive at the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA), also highlighted that the government had not considered alternatives to compulsory coronavirus vaccines and that explaining why mandatory jabs was the preferred option would have strengthened the government’s argument.

Now, DHSC has done a U-turn on compulsory COVID-19 vaccines for frontline health and social care workers. These changes with be subject to a period of consultation, parliamentary approval and will require a change to the regulations already laid.

It comes as the Omicron variant is now the dominant variant in the UK, representing 96 percent of cases, according to the government. The latest data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows boosters are around 90 percent effective in preventing hospitalisation from Omicron soon after they are administered.

Over 37 million boosters in the UK have now been administered. This, coupled with the lower levels of hospitalisation and mortality, suggests the population as a whole is now better protected, with the latest evidence suggesting that the risk of presentation to emergency care or hospital admission is approximately half of that for Delta, according to DHSC.

As a result, the government has re-examined the mandatory vaccination policy. It notes that the balance of opportunities and risks of the policy have now changed with the dominance of Omicron. The booster rollout has been successful, and workforce challenges remain.

While the legal requirement on deployment is set to be revoked, those working in health and social care still have a professional duty to get vaccinated, the government reinforces.

The government will now work closely with Royal Colleges and professional regulators to strengthen guidance and consult on updates to the DHSC’s Code of Practice for regulated providers to strengthen the requirements in relation to COVID-19, which applies to all CQC-registered providers of all health and social care in England.

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