Social care leaders hit out at 11th hour vaccine exemption allowing care home staff to ‘self-certify’

Care home staff in England will be able to temporarily “self-certify” that they are medically exempt from getting a coronavirus vaccine, it has emerged.

Pregnant care home workers will also be able to apply for a “time-limited exemption” from the Government’s mandatory vaccination policy.

The Government has written to council bosses, directors of adult social services and care homes setting out who can apply for exemptions and how, just one day before the deadline for care staff to get their first doses.

It said employees and volunteers will be able to self-certify that they meet the medical exemption criteria on a temporary basis.

This will be in place for a “short period” before the new NHS Covid pass system is introduced, when workers will then need to apply for formal medical exemption.

The self-certified exemptions will expire 12 weeks after the launch of the new system.

Those covered include people with a severe allergy to the vaccines, those who had adverse reactions to their first dose, people who are receiving end-of-life care and people with learning disabilities, autism or with a combination of impairments who find vaccination distressing because of their condition.

The letter, from Claire Armstrong, director of adult social care delivery, says: “Time-limited exemptions will also be available for those with short-term medical conditions (eg. people receiving hospital care or receiving medication which may interact with the vaccination).

“A time-limited exemption is also available for pregnant women should they choose to take it.”

Care providers have previously warned the Government’s plan for care home staff to be fully vaccinated by November 11 could lead to an “exodus” of staff that would worsen the existing workforce crisis.

Care providers criticised the latest plans for being announced at the eleventh hour and said the move pushes the problem of losing staff 12 weeks down the line.

They also warned that a care worker who does not want the vaccine could “self-certify” as medically exempt to buy themselves more time.

The form staff must sign and return includes the line: “I acknowledge that providing false information may result in disciplinary action.”

Mike Padgham, director of the Independent Care Group, said the Government appears to have opened a “loophole” for staff unprepared to get jabbed.

He told the PA news agency: “It seems on the one hand that it gives a bit of respite, because if people wanted to be exempt, and they couldn’t get the correspondence in place then it’s given room for manouevre, it’s given a bit of breathing space.

“It seems to me that it was a hastily thought-out issue – that they think there are problems coming and they’ve done this to sort of help shift the deadline a bit, but it seems to be that anybody can fill that out now, if you’re self- certifying, so I don’t really understand the logic behind it.

“To come out so close to the wire, it seems to make a mockery of what they said.”

He added: “If you didn’t want the vaccine, you could say you think you’re going to be medically exempt and have another 12 weeks of work.”

Professor Martin Green, chief executive of the membership body Care England, told PA: “The guidance is less than clear, and with one day to go seems incredibly last-minute.”

Rachel Harrison, GMB national officer, said: “GMB has been calling on the Government to reverse their appalling decision to force vaccination on social care key workers from the start.

“We warned it could cause a mass exodus in a sector already facing a 170,000 staffing black hole.

“Now, at the eleventh hour, they’ve fudged it. It’s cowardly, incompetent and inhumane.”

The Government will update its operational guidance to reflect the temporary system in the coming days.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Over 90% of care home staff have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine ahead of the 11 November deadline and we encourage even more staff to get vaccinated to protect their colleagues and those they care for.

“Temporarily, those who meet the criteria for a medical exemption will be able to self-certify until we introduce a new system.

“This will ensure those with medical exemptions can continue working in care homes.”

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