As published by City AM:
Ministers have been accused of using care home staff as “guinea pigs” for forced vaccinations after the government today opened a consultation on whether to make compulsory Covid jabs part of their work contracts.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it would take evidence over a five-week period on whether staff should be forced to receive a Covid jab as a condition of working in care homes with older residents.
David Davis, Conservative MP and former Brexit secretary, told City A.M. the plans were a “precursor to allow other sectors to do the same thing”.
He warned that the government’s plans to amend the Health and Social Care Act (2008) as part of the proposal amounted to a “serious” policy change.
“All the Health and Social Care Act was doing was putting into law what is a matter of international convention anyway, which is that you cannot require people to have medical treatment which is not explicitly for their own interest,” said Davis.
“You have to find a reason to change that because it’s quite a serious change… You’re creating a two-tier society where for the unvaccinated, the lockdown never ends,” he said.
The Conservative MP added that the “better way” was for the government to vaccinate those most at-risk and to boost awareness of the benefits of vaccination amongst jab sceptics.
It comes amid concerns that low vaccine uptake among care home staff is putting elderly residents at risk of catching coronavirus.
Experts on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said today that at least 80 per cent of staff and 90 per cent of residents in elderly care homes must be vaccinated to provide a minimum level of protection against outbreaks.
Currently, only 53 per cent of older adult care homes in England have achieved this threshold. DHSC warned the figure could leave up to 150,000 residents in care homes at increased risk of catching coronavirus.
Lambeth, where surge testing is currently underway to curb an outbreak of the South African Covid variant, has the lowest staff vaccination rate in the entire country.
Ruth Hutt, director of public health for Lambeth Council, said a cluster of infections of the new variant was picked up in a care home in the south London borough.
But the government has faced accusations that allowing an exemption for care home staff would result in an open door for other “no jab, no job” policies to be sneaked through.
The GMB union, which represents more than 630,000 workers across the UK, accused the government of using the care sector as a “guinea pig” for forced vaccinations.
It said the government should instead increase the rate of statutory sick pay “so that sick workers can afford to isolate”.
Kelly Andrews, GMB organiser, said the plans represented the “thin end of the wedge, and could lead to employers in other sectors demanding the same approach”.
She added that any government mandate for compulsory vaccinations would have “profound consequences for human rights and employment rights”.
The prospect of compulsory vaccinations has been the subject of fierce debate since Pimlico Plumbers boss Charlie Mullins revealed to City A.M. earlier this year that his would become the first company in the UK to introduce a “no jab, no job” policy.
Barchester Healthcare, which runs more than 200 care homes across the country, said it will not hire new staff who refuse the Covid-19 vaccine on non-medical grounds.
Meanwhile, City A.M. revealed earlier this year that global investment bank Jefferies dropped plans to require staff to receive a vaccine before returning to the office.
The Prime Minister has previously said that “taking a vaccine is not mandatory and it would be discriminatory to force somebody to take one”.
The Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 specifically states that members of the public cannot be forced to undergo any mandatory medical treatment, including vaccinations.
Nadhim Zahawi, the government’s vaccines tsar, said in February that Britain is “not the sort of country” that forces citizens to receive vaccinations. “I think it’s important we do it by persuasion,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme earlier this year.