Care home staff look set to be forced to have Covid jabs as ministers prepare to confirm their plans within days.
The government has proposed changing the law to make vaccinations a “condition of deployment” for staff in care homes for older people in England.
There had been warnings it could hit staffing levels, and trigger legal action by workers who could claim the rule is a breach of European human rights law.
But the BBC and The Times revealed ministers have now decided to press ahead with the policy to protect care residents. Whitehall sources confirmed the plans.
Trade Secretary Liz Truss refused to confirm the details but said an announcement is “very imminent”. It’s understood it will be made within days after a consultation closed last month.
Affected workers will have 16 weeks to have the vaccine or face being fired under the policy, according to the BBC.
Separately, ministers have indicated they will also open a consultation on forcing some or all NHS staff to have the jab in the same way.
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The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) will reportedly launch two separate consultation exercises in the next few days into making Covid and flu jabs mandatory for NHS staff.
Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi said earlier this month: “We’ve been consulting in terms of a condition of deployment into social care. I think it’s only right that we look at the healthcare system as well.
“It’s absolutely the right thing, it would be incumbent on any responsible government, to have the debate, to do thinking, as to how we go about protecting the most vulnerable by making sure those who look after them are vaccinated.
“There is precedent for this. Obviously surgeons get vaccinated for Hepatitis B. So it’s something we are absolutely thinking about.”
Ministers believe the arguments in favour of protecting patients from potentially infectious staff now outweigh those that gives health workers the right to choose whether or not to be jabbed.
The British Medical Association, which represents doctors, said that while they want all NHS staff to get jabbed, “compulsion is a blunt instrument that carries its own risks”.
It said: “While some healthcare workers are already required to be immunised against certain conditions to work in certain areas, any specific proposal for the compulsory requirement for all staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19 would raise new ethical and legal implications.”
Staff working some areas, such as surgery, must be vaccinated against some viruses such as hepatitis B.
The chair of the National Care Association, Nadra Ahmed, warned the move could lead the sector to collapse.
She told Times Radio: “We have got 83% [of staff] already vaccinated. We have over 95 or 96% of residents vaccinated.
“We absolutely back the fact that the vaccine is the way out of the pandemic in some shape or form. But compelling somebody, I think that’s a whole new territory.
“If we lost the other 16-17% who do not want to have this vaccine, we will find a sector in collapse because we won’t have the workforce to deliver the care to the most vulnerable people in this country…How are we going to make this work?”
The NHS Confederation, which represents health service trusts in England, has described plans for compulsory vaccines for staff as “unhelpful”.
It also warned that hospital bosses are “unlikely” to welcome the move.
One NHS boss told the Guardian: “If you are going to go down this route of mandation for NHS staff, you will get into a direct confrontation with a group of staff who you’re forcing to do this at a time when you’re denying them a decent pay rise but also saying how much you love them.
“The government hasn’t thought through the consequences of this. Hospital trusts could end up having to suspend or even dismiss members of staff who continue to refuse to be vaccinated against Covid in defiance of a policy requiring them to get jabbed,” the senior figure said.
The Government is drawing up the plans despite data showing that 89% of NHS staff had had their first dose and 82% had had both as of June 6.
But take-up has been lower among social care staff with statistics showing that 83.7% of staff in adult care homes had received at least one dose and 68.7% had been double-jabbed by June 6.
A DHSC spokesperson told the Mirror: “Vaccines are our way out of this pandemic and have already saved thousands of lives – with millions of health and care staff vaccinated.
“Our priority is to make sure people in care homes are protected and we launched the consultation to get views on whether and how the government might take forward a new requirement for adult care home providers, looking after older people, to only deploy staff who have had a COVID-19 vaccination or have an appropriate exemption.
“The consultation ended on Wednesday 26 May and we will publish our response in due course.”