GP practices may need legal advice over mandatory COVID-19 jabs

GP practices 'may wish to seek individual HR and legal advice' on how to implement the government's mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for staff in patient-facing roles, NHS England has said.

COVID-19 vaccine (Photo: Aleksandr Zubkov/Getty Images)

From 1 April next year, all healthcare providers delivering 'CQC regulated activity' will only be able to employ staff who have face-to-face contact with patients if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, unless they are aged under 18 or medically exempt.

The vaccine mandate is controversial, with GP leaders arguing for persuasion over coercion - and warning that general practice cannot afford to lose an estimated 9,000 staff who could remain unvaccinated by 1 April.

But the advice from NHS England suggests practices could also face additional costs for legal or human resources advice as they prepare to put rules on mandatory vaccination into practice - along with potentially significant additional workload.

COVID-19 jabs

MPs are likely to approve regulations confirming the vaccine mandate in early January, and the rules will take effect 12 weeks later after a 'grace period' comes to an end.

Under current rules, staff will need to have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by 3 February at the latest to be able to complete the two-dose primary vaccination course before the cut-off date.

The advice says integrated care systems are encouraged to share advice and expertise on interpreting the rules, but it adds that 'primary care providers may wish to seek individual HR and legal advice to take into account variations in local contractual terms and conditions'.

Practices - along with other employers of NHS staff - have been told to 'review and assess' which roles fall under the scope of the new rules and update privacy notices explaining to employees how their data will be used to comply with data protection laws.

Mandatory vaccination

They will need to 'actively support uptake of vaccination via communication and engagement', the guidance warns - with a recommendation that 'sensitive one-to-one conversations approached holistically, with empathy and respect, are the best way to convert vaccine hesitancy to vaccine uptake'.

Practices will need to set up systems to record the 'vaccination and exemption status' of their workforce and agree with medical schools how trainees' vaccination status will be confirmed.

Practices have also been urged to 'proactively plan and identify potential workforce reconfigurations' so that unvaccinated staff can be redeployed to roles with no direct contact with patients where possible. However, the guidance says 'formal redeployment of workers should not commence until the regulation has been approved by Parliament which is expected on 6 January 2022.

Meanwhile, the guidance also warns that 'local equality impact assessments should be completed to consider and understand the likely impact of the regulations on staff with protected characteristics' - and says that employers 'will need to have due regard to the potential risks and challenges' posed by the switch to mandatory vaccination.

NHS-wide, the decision to require NHS staff to be vaccinated could strip as many as 73,000 people from the workforce, government estimates suggest.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said last month that mandatory vaccination 'risks leading to resentment and mistrust'. He added: 'The move to mandatory vaccination is particularly concerning at a time when we need as many people as possible working in general practice and across the health and care sectors delivering essential patient care and services.'

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