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COVID-19 Vaccination U-Turn – Yesterday’s VCOD is Today’s Fish-Wrap – Clear Next-Step Guidance Needed Now

*** For immediate release ***

  • Mandatory COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of deployment for frontline health & social care workers (VCOD) – and now its last-minute reversal – caused serious disruption to the NHS and its delivery-partner businesses
  • The reversal will relieve stress, complexity and expense connected to issues caused by VCOD for employers (workforce implications) and employees (redundancies)
  • Previous guidance on the scope of VCOD was unhelpfully vague, and subject to too much interpretation by individual NHS Trusts
  • BHTA calls for immediate, clear, easy-to-follow scope guidance – i.e. exactly who is allowed to work on the health & social care frontline – that applies equally across the NHS landscape

[Feb, 2022. London, UK] Following the Government’s decision to suspend its plans to introduce mandatory vaccination for frontline health and social care workers, William Lee, Policy and Parliamentary Executive of the British Healthcare Trades Association, highlights the challenges around clarity of guidance for businesses and the NHS that now must be addressed.

If a week is a long time in politics, what constitutes a long time in policy?

Eleven-and-a-bit weeks, apparently – that’s the elapsed time between the Government’s 09-Nov-21 decision that all frontline health & social care workers in England must (from 01-Apr-22) be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of deployment (VCOD) and their 11th-hour reversal: the Department of Health & Social Care (DHSC) announced on Monday, 31-Jan-22 that the legal requirement for vaccination will be revoked (see also Sajid Javid’s statement to the House of Commons on the same day). This change will be subject to public consultation, the approval of Parliament, and – crucially – will require a change to the previous VCOD regulations already laid (more on this last point in a moment).

At the time of the Government’s original decision, we expressed conditional support – we understood the desire to take all necessary steps to protect healthcare workers and the public – but we stressed that mandatory vaccination was only 50% of the solution. BHTA outlined four key areas of support, from both the financial and policy perspectives, that Government needed to address to forestall potential economic fallout from the decision. And BHTA, its member companies, and other health & social care representatives highlighted to Government one of the most foreseeable negative effects: complex issues arising from workforce deployment.

The BHTA can’t but be pleased by the relief this reversal will bring to the health and social care sector. The NHS and its delivery-partner businesses (many of whom are BHTA members) were facing redundancies among those who remained unvaccinated, with dire personal consequences for employees and serious, costly workforce implications for employers. Now is not the time to lack for any frontline health & social care workers for any reason, nor to introduce more stress, complexity, and expense for those working so hard to deliver for patients in the third year of the pandemic. We do, however, note the frustration of nurses, NHS administrators, and businesses at the route that has led to this last-minute reversal, and we are very concerned about the risks that mixed messages present for BHTA members (businesses trying to provide the very best for patients as partners with the NHS across the health & social care landscape).

Most important now for the NHS and its delivery partners is immediate, clear, easy-to-follow guidance from the centre. Only this will allow the maximum number of health and social care workers back onto the frontline to serve patients, both COVID-19 patients and those affected by COVID-induced backlogs. Previous VCOD guidance on planning and deployment was both vague and lacking in detail – especially with regard to which categories of employees were and were not in scope for VCOD. As well, the guidance was a minimum standard, beyond which individual NHS Trusts were able to set their own rules and apply their own interpretations.

This was – and is – unhelpful. It creates too much opportunity for delay, confusion, and “one-size-fits-none” customisation-complexity for delivery partners who work with many NHS Trusts, and are faced with a different set of rules for each one. Now, after having pulled out all the stops in an effort to comply with the original, mandatory VCOD regulation, individual NHS Trusts are being told by Government in a 31-Jan-22 letter: “we’ve removed the legal requirement for vaccines, but you’re in a holding pattern when it comes to frontline staff deployment.”

And indeed, a legal change to the previously-laid VCOD regulations is a necessity – but NHS Trusts and their delivery partners need direction now on who can work on the health & social care frontline. Surely, with all else that has been possible during the pandemic, clear, detailed, centre-led guidance – equally applicable across the health & social care landscape, and flexible enough not to require interpretation on a Trust-by-Trust basis – is in the Government’s gift. At times “Levelling Across” (something that should be uniquely possible for Britain’s NHS) is as important as Levelling Up – and keeping the public happy with the care they receive from the NHS and its delivery partners has to be attractive to any Government.

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BHTA Policy and Parliamentary Executive William Lee

William Lee, Policy & Parliamentary Executive at the British Healthcare Trades Association

With over 25 years of policy and advocacy experience, William Lee has spent much of his working life championing the needs of vulnerable communities at US & UK NGOs and governments. He is responsible for the research, development and dissemination of policy, strategy, parliamentary and technical information to BHTA members, and supports with the association’s important stakeholder engagement.

Notes for editors

About the BHTA: Representing over 400 companies in the healthcare and assistive technology industry, the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA) brings the industry together to help shape and improve the health and care of the nation. All BHTA members are committed to adhering to the Association’s Code of Practice – the only code in the industry approved by The Chartered Trading Standards Institute.

About the CTSI: The BHTA Code of Practice – the first for consumers in the healthcare industry – is approved under the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI)’s Consumer Codes Approval Scheme, ensuring all BHTA member companies trade ethically and professionally.

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