It will be mandatory for frontline NHS and social care staff in England to be vaccinated against Covid-19 from 1 April 2022. The announcement comes as a government analyst warned that up to 73,000 NHS staff could still refuse the jab despite the government’s mandatory vaccine policy announced by Health Secretary Sajid Javid on Tuesday.
Mr Javid made the controversial announcement on Tuesday as he claimed the NHS faces huge pressure this winter.
He said: “It’s with this in mind that we’ve chosen for the condition not to come into force until 12 weeks after parliamentary approval, allowing time for remaining colleagues to make the positive choice to protect themselves of those around them, and time for workforce planning.”
He said that, despite plans for compulsory Covid-19 vaccines, the Government will not be introducing any requirement on flu jabs at the moment but it remains under review.
Whilst he said that unvaccinated individuals working for the NHS or care should not be “scapegoated” or “shamed”, he described mandatory vaccination of those who have so far rejected the vaccine on a range of ethical, medical or conscience grounds as “a positive choice”.
He stated: “Allow me to be clear that no one in the NHS or care that is currently unvaccinated should be scapegoated, singled out or shamed. That would be totally unacceptable.
“This is about supporting them to make a positive choice to protect vulnerable people, to protect their colleagues. And of course to protect themselves.”
According to the Health Secretary, more than 100,000 NHS workers in England are currently unvaccinated including a reported 60,000 care home workers across England – equating to 10 per cent of the sector’s workforce. The bombshell announcement comes as The Daily Mail UK reported that “thousands of unjabbed care home staff are set to quit” according to health bosses, as a ban on unvaccinated workers in social care comes into effect on Thursday.
Chika Ruben, who is a London care worker and GMB union rep tasked with encouraging colleagues to take the vaccine, spoke of the pressure staff were under to get jabbed for fear of losing their jobs.
“Many decided to get vaccinated when the Government said they were going to make it compulsory. It changed minds. You don’t want to lose your job.”
Despite reports that the ultimatum means that “the proportion of double-jabbed staff has risen in recent months” according to reports, many care home bosses fear the policy, coming into force this week, will create more problems than it addresses,
Chief executive of MHA, the UK’s largest charity care provider, Sam Monaghan, said: “The staffing crisis in social care means that for MHA an average of 7.5 per cent of our care homes have been closed to new admissions over the past weeks.”
“The mandatory vaccination for people working in care homes will mean we lose [more] people from the sector.”
Announcing an extension of the rules for hospital staff, the Health Secretary Mr Javid told MPs on Tuesday: “The take-up throughout the NHS in England is 93% of the first dose, 90% of two doses, and that does leave – the latest number I have – 103,000 people in the NHS, that work for the NHS, that are unvaccinated, so not even one jab.
“It’s hard to know what portion of that number will take up the offer of vaccination. If we look at what has happened with social care, care homes, since that policy was announced, there was a significant fall in the equivalent number and I think we can certainly expect that here.”
Prior to this, the shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said Labour wants to see NHS staff vaccinated but warned Mr Javid to “proceed with caution” amid possible staff shortages.
He said: “There will be anxiety at trust level that a policy, however laudable in principle, could exacerbate some of these chronic understaffing problems – we simply cannot afford to lose thousands of NHS staff overnight.”
It comes as public service union UNISON blasted the government’s “draconian” plans for mandatory vaccination for all frontline NHS and care workers, predicting in September that the move would trigger a “catastrophic” staffing crisis that could decimate the NHS.
UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea of UNISON said in a statement that compulsory vaccination should be scrapped:
“UNISON believes mandatory vaccination should be scrapped or thousands of people may lose out on the support they need. The care sector is already in the grip of a severe staffing crisis and UNISON is receiving reports that multiple care agencies can no longer provide emergency cover. The union says the mandatory jab policy is partly to blame for these firms turning down requests from care homes to supply temporary care workers.”
She continued to highlight the problems with the government’s “heavy-handed” approach, stating that it would lead to a severe shortage of workers: “There are more than 112,000 vacancies in care and the government itself predicts the loss of 40,000 to 70,000 workers because of its ‘no jab, no job’ care homes policy.
“Such a significant reduction of employees, in a sector already afflicted with burn-out and blighted by low-pay, will mean many roles will remain unfilled, warns UNISON. This could result in the closure of care homes and a reduction in the level of care available as employers struggle to meet safe staffing levels.
“Unless the government drops its mandatory vaccines rules, ministers risk decimating a sector already struggling with chronic staff shortages.”
She added that: “This move is damaging a sector already on its knees and undermining trust in the vaccine. If roles can’t be filled, the level and volume of care offered will be reduced. Vaccine-hesitant staff must be offered reassurance and persuasion, not threats and ultimatums.
“Instead of encouraging much-needed recruitment into care, the government is actively driving experienced staff away. It’s not too late for ministers to admit the error of their ways and bring care back from the precipice.”
PUBLIC CONSULTATION TO TAKE PLACE IN NI
Following today’s announcement, reports surfaced that compulsory Covid-19 jabs are also to be considered for health staff in Northern Ireland, with a public consultation on the issue now set to take place. However, the Department of Health in Northern Ireland has said there are “currently no plans for a mandatory vaccination programme” for frontline workers.
“We do not want to take a position that might further destabilise our vulnerable staffing position and therefore have currently no plans for a mandatory vaccination programme at this time,” a spokesperson for the Department of Health told the Belfast Telegraph.
NI Health Minister Robin Swann stated that introducing such measures would be significant and should only be undertaken following careful consideration.
“Vaccination is central to our efforts to support health and social care services during this extremely challenging winter and beyond,” Mr Swann said.
He added: “I remain convinced that persuasion is the best and most effective option when it comes to vaccination.”
However, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she believed mandatory vaccination raised human rights concerns. Ms O’Neill has said she would consider such a proposal but that she favoured a voluntary approach.
The Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said she would prefer the executive to move to make vaccine passports a requirement to enter nightclubs, but said she did not believe mandatory vaccination was required in Northern Ireland for health and social care staff.
At present in the Republic of Ireland, vaccines are recommended by the Irish authorities, but are not compulsory.