Words by Jasmine Crowhurst, News Sub-editor
Covid-19 vaccinations are set to be made mandatory for 1.45 million NHS staff in England, despite criticism that forcing frontline workers to be jabbed will lead to staff quitting.
The policy is understood to be introduced in April next year, to avoid extra staffing issues as the NHS faces a difficult winter this year. The new approach has already received concerns that the decision is too heavy handed.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid is set to announce the plan soon, but has already said he was ‘leaning towards’ a vaccine mandate for NHS staff. The government has been warned that introducing such a policy could lead to a mass departure of staff from the healthcare industry. The government is yet to make a final decision.
Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock said “It is vital for people who work in caring roles, in social care and the NHS, to get vaccinated. Our NHS staff have been the heartbeat of the nation throughout the pandemic,” he wrote in the Telegraph.
“For those who work in caring roles, protection of patients is a moral duty and given the proven safety and effectiveness of vaccines in saving lives, vaccination is a moral duty, too” he continued.
To those who argue against mandatory vaccination, the MP said compulsory jabs are historical, going back to the 1850s doctors were made to get protected against hepatitis B.
The Chief executive of NHS providers Chris Hopson said that mandatory vaccinations should be looked at with “careful thought” and could potentially be a “prompt” to further conversations with those who are hesitant about getting the vaccine.
He also highlighted that the potential loss of staff in a service that has been and continues to be under such pressure will be a huge risk and focusing on supporting efforts to maximise voluntary take up of the vaccine should come first.
The British Medical Association, the doctors’ union, last week urged a delay to consider the legal, ethical and practical implications of pressing ahead with a policy that could result in the reduction in healthcare workers, and have detrimental effects to the running and quality of patient services in the UK.
The latest NHS figures show that 90% of NHS personnel in England – 1,303,605 out of 1,452,256 – have had two doses of vaccine. However, as recently as September the figure was as low as 78% in some NHS trusts.
It is understood that a vaccine mandate would affect about 100,000 NHS workers who are not fully vaccinated. However it remains unclear whether this includes staff such as cleaners and administrative employees.
Javid has already made vaccination mandatory for care home staff in England. From Thursday 11 November, anyone working in a care home will have to prove they have been double-jabbed unless they have a medical exemption. The most recent data suggests about 90% of the sector’s 600,000 personnel have been fully vaccinated, leaving around 60,000 who have not.
Dr Peter English, Retired Consultant in Communicable Disease Control, Former Editor of Vaccines in Practice, Immediate past Chair of the BMA Public Health Medicine Committee, said: “Healthcare workers are more likely to be exposed to infectious patients. They are also more likely to be in contact with vulnerable susceptible patients.
For the sake of their patients, Health care workers have a duty to ensure they have taken all necessary steps to minimise their risk of infecting their patients – including, where appropriate, vaccination. Most Health Care Workers already choose to be vaccinated. Whether creating additional legal requirements will help is another matter.”