Care home workers could be legally required to be vaccinated against Covid-19 under plans being considered by the Government, according to the Health Secretary.
Matt Hancock said that “no final decision” has been taken amid a review into vaccination passports, but confirmed that ministers were looking at jabs being made compulsory for care workers in England.
The Telegraph reported leaked details of a paper submitted to the “Covid O” sub-committee of Cabinet which said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Mr Hancock had agreed to the proposal.
Asked about the reports, Mr Hancock told LBC: “On this one, no decision has been taken, but it is something that we are looking at.
“Because people who are looking after elderly residents in care homes, who we know to be the most vulnerable to Covid, they have a duty of care not to pass on the disease and it is a reasonable question.”
He said “many” care homes had asked for this to happen, adding: “There’s a legal change that’s required and, as you can see, I’m open to that, but no final decision has been taken.”
The plans have emerged amid concerns of low uptake of staff in care homes looking after those who are among the most vulnerable from contracting the disease.
But it would prove controversial, with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman previously accepting it would be “discriminatory” to force people to be vaccinated.
Mr Hancock said that there was “still further to go” in vaccine uptake in care staff, with around 76% of workers in elderly care homes vaccinated, and more than 90% of residents.
There are already 120,000 vacancies in the care sector, we don’t need to put anything else in the way that might prevent people from joining our rewarding professionMike Padgham, Independent Care Group chairman
“One of the problems is that not every elderly resident can be vaccinated, sometimes for medical reasons, and we want to give them as much protection as possible,” he added.
“Now, 76% of staff having been vaccinated, that is good news, and that is good progress over the last few weeks, but there is still further to go.”
The Independent Care Group, which represents providers in York and North Yorkshire, said making the vaccine mandatory for care workers could put people off from joining the sector.
Chairman Mike Padgham said it is vital care workers get vaccinated but it should be voluntary, adding: “I think rather than force it through legislation, the Government has more work to do in terms of persuading everyone, not just care workers, about how important it is that the whole country has the vaccine so that we are all protected.
“There are already 120,000 vacancies in the care sector, we don’t need to put anything else in the way that might prevent people from joining our rewarding profession.”
The GMB union said care workers should not be “strong-armed or bullied with threats of the law”.
Kelly Andrews, lead social care officer, said: “The least they could do through the vaccine rollout is try to gain the confidence of the workforce and work with us to remove the barriers to getting vaccinated.
“A voluntary line of action which ensures care workers get full sick pay for potential vaccination side-effects, support services to talk through workers’ concerns.
“This heavy-handed, we-know-best approach will cause unnecessary anxiety and discontent when our care workers are still fighting the pandemic.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he sees “powerful arguments” both for and against the compulsory vaccination of care home staff and that the most important thing currently is to encourage people to come forward for jabs.
The Telegraph reports that the sub-committee paper warned that a “large” number of social care workers may quit if the change is made, while there could be successful lawsuits on human rights grounds.
In response to the reports, Kate Hindmarch, partner in employment law at Langleys Solicitors, said that “no jab, no job could be a dangerous approach for employers to take”.
“If an employer tries to force their employees to receive the jab or decides not to hire someone based on their refusal to get the jab, it could result in employment claims, for unfair dismissal and/or discrimination,” she said.
A Government spokesman said: “The review into Covid status certification is considering a range of issues.
“No final decisions have been made.”