From April next year all NHS staff will need to have had a Covid-19 vaccine, Emily Morgan reports
More than 70,000 unvaccinated NHS staff will need to get the jab or risk losing their job after the government announced Covid-19 jabs would be compulsory for NHS England workers.
The figure is a government estimate of how many staff in the health service will remain unvaccinated after the grace period ends on April 1 2022.
Exemptions will be given to those who do not have face to face contact with patients and those who are medically exempt.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs the decision to make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory for NHS staff in England does not mean the government is not sensitive to concerns about “workforce pressures” this winter.
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But the government has conceded that the policy could have a “significant impact” on the health and care workforce.
An impact report by the government warns that any reduction in the workforce “may lead to reduced or delayed services”, with the NHS already facing a record backlog of care and grappling with high vacancy rates.
Estimates included in the document suggest that around 54,000 unvaccinated staff will take up the offer of a jab as a result of the policy.
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Mr Javid told MPs the take-up throughout the NHS in England is 93% for the first dose and 90% of have had both doses. He also said it would cost £270m to replace any lost staff.
Mr Javid said due to the impact on the workforce the new rule would not come "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.”
"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," the health secretary added.
There will not be any vaccine requirements for flu jabs "at this stage", but this will be kept under review, Mr Javid said.
He added that healthcare workers have "twin responsibilities", one to avoid preventable harm for those they care for, as well as to protect colleagues in the NHS.
The rule change only applies to England, the other three nations of the UK are in control of the decision and only Northern Ireland has so far indicated they may follow suit.
Unions have expressed some resistance to the proposals.
Unison head of health Sara Gorton warned it is wrong to “leap to the law” by bringing in mandatory vaccination instead of trying to persuade NHS workers to get jabbed.
“Mandatory jabs in social care have prompted an unprecedented staffing crisis," she said. “The government should be careful not to make the same mistake twice. It should also consider practical alternatives like daily testing.”
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) said it is “concerned” about the policy, and said the ethical implications regarding individuals’ right to consent to treatment “will need consideration”.
It also puts those delivering jabs “in a difficult position”, as consent is a “fundamental principle of good healthcare”, it said.
Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said it is essential that getting vaccinated “remains a free choice for all health and care staff”.
The government has made it mandatory for staff in registered care homes in England to have both jabs as a condition of deployment, unless they are exempt for valid medical reasons.
From Thursday, it will be a legal requirement for staff who are not exempt to be double vaccinated if they are to continue in their roles.
Latest figures from NHS England show that almost a quarter (23.3%) of staff working in younger adult care homes and domiciliary care providers have not been reported as having had both jabs as of October 31. This is a total of 116,871 staff.
Tens of thousands of care home staff were not recorded as having been double jabbed as of October 31, meaning they are set to lose their jobs this week, according to the NHS figures. Some 60,964 staff had not had a second jab reported as of the end of October, with several thousand of these understood to have self-certified as exempt or applied for official proof.
A consultation on making vaccination a condition of deployment in the health and wider social care sector ended on October 22.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have not yet made any proposals to make Covid jabs compulsory for NHS workers or care home staff.