Covid vaccinations to become mandatory for England’s NHS staff
Covid-19 jabs will become compulsory for NHS staff in England from next spring, health secretary Sajid Javid said on Tuesday, in a move aimed at boosting uptake among workers and reducing coronavirus transmission within health settings.
Announcing the move in the House of Commons, Javid said the vaccination programme had provided a “wall of defence” across the country, but argued that health workers carried a “unique responsibility” because of their proximity to society’s most vulnerable.
The new rules, which are subject to parliamentary approval, would come into effect from April 1 next year, Javid said. Individuals who do not have face to face contact with patients and those with medical reasons for not getting the jab will be exempt.
“We’ve chosen for the condition not to come into force until 12 weeks after parliamentary approval,” the health secretary told MPs. “Allowing time for remaining colleagues to make the positive choice to protect themselves and those around them and time for workforce planning.”
Around 103,000 NHS staff in England — 7.1 per cent of the total workforce — are still unvaccinated, despite being among the first cohort to be offered a Covid-19 jab when the vaccine rollout began in December 2020.
According to official statistics, as of June this year, there were nearly 94,000 vacancies across NHS England and some within the sector have warned that the prospect of mandatory jabs could deepen staff shortages, further squeezing the health service as it tackles a backlog of cases.
“The NHS is already seeing a severe ‘recruitment and retention’ crisis,” said Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, the national officer for health at the Unite union. “Imposing a regime of mandatory vaccination will just exacerbate this crisis as we go into a very difficult winter for the health service, with an exhausted staff still battling the continuing 21-month old pandemic.”
Health leaders have also expressed concerns. Dr Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said the college did not support requiring staff to have Covid-19 and flu vaccines, although it would “wholeheartedly encourage” it. While about 99 per cent of physicians had been vaccinated, “introducing such a requirement could drive those who choose not to receive the vaccine to leave the NHS”, Goddard added.
Others have welcomed the move, arguing that while the threat of coronavirus remained health services had a duty to protect staff and prevent avoidable infections. “Mandating Covid-19 vaccinations in the NHS offers a further incentive for staff who are eligible but have not come forward yet to get jabbed at time when the virus continues to be a threat,” said Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation.
Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said that with five months until the decision takes effect, “the government and employers must continue to engage with the small minority who have chosen not to have the vaccine”.
Government regulations requiring care home staff to be fully vaccinated are set to come into effect on November 11. Care home leaders have warned of an exodus of staff, arguing that the new regulations have deterred people from joining the profession and will encourage existing staff to leave the profession entirely.
Ahead of Thursday’s deadline, the latest NHS data show that around 49,000 older adult care home staff, or 10.6 per cent of the total workforce, are yet to be fully vaccinated.