Regulations making Covid-19 vaccines a condition of deployment for health and care staff working with people with a learning disability look set to be revoked as the Health and Social Care Secretary announced a formal consultation on the policy.

Sajid Javid said subject to public consultation and parliamentary approval, it was “no longer proportionate” to make it a legal requirement. This is because Omicron has now replaced Delta as the dominant Covid-19 variant and two vaccine doses against Omicron becomes less effective over time.

The Royal College of Nursing and GPs welcomed the decision as did the British Medical Association which said it was the right move as mandatory vaccines could have had  a ‘devastating’ impact on an already stretched workforce.

The government said it will keep all Covid-19 measures under review and those working in health and social care still have a professional duty to get vaccinated and boosted with the vaccine.

Since the consultation on health and wider social care staff was announced in September more than 127,000 NHS staff came forward for a vaccine and 95% have now had at least one dose. Uptake among care home staff rose from 77% to 94.5%.

Social care staff have already lost their jobs

Patricia Marquis, RCN Director of England, said although the rethink to policy was welcomed, the climbdown by the government has come too late for those social care staff who have already lost their jobs.

She added: “To risk thousands more nursing staff being sacked in the middle of a staffing crisis was never in the interests of patients’ safety. 

“Vaccination is hugely important but this was the wrong policy, especially as it added to the current pressure on NHS and care services. Staff are being spread thinner and thinner and struggling to care for their patients safely."

Unison said that the health secretary should now apologise to care home staff for the government’s mandatory vaccination policy that saw thousands of dedicated and experienced staff lost to the sector. 

General secretary Christina McAnea said that most will never return because they have found less stressful, better paid work.

“The government has treated staff working in English care homes and the wider sector appallingly," she added. "Ministers were warned repeatedly of the terrible consequences of the ‘no jab, no job’ rules, yet ploughed on regardless.

“The government must single-handedly take the blame for aggravating the staffing crisis and pushing care homes to the brink. It’s simply not good enough for the health secretary to say sacked workers can return to care homes if they like.

“Sajid Javid should apologise and find the cash to ensure the real living wage is the minimum hourly rate in care. That’s the very least the government can do.”