COVID-19 vaccines set to be compulsory for all frontline NHS staff in England
The Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, has said that COVID-19 vaccines will soon be mandatory for all frontline NHS staff in England, telling the Commons a deadline of 1 April 2022 will be set.
Between 80,000 and 100,000 NHS workers in England are currently unvaccinated, said Chris Hopson, Head of NHS Providers.
This announcement follows the recent deadline for all care home workers in England who are not exempt to get vaccinated or risk losing their jobs, which came on 11 November 2021.
The decision follows a consultation on whether both the COVID and flu jabs should be compulsory for frontline NHS and care home works which began in September. It was decided during this time that the flu vaccine would not be made mandatory.
There will be exemptions for the COVID vaccine requirement for medical reasons, and for those who do not have face-to-face contact with patients in their work, he added.
In a statement to MPs, Mr Javid said responses to the consultation showed support for vaccination to become a condition and concerns that some people might choose to leave their jobs. But, having considered the responses, as well as advice from his officials and NHS leaders, he concluded that all those working in the NHS and social care would have to be vaccinated, he said.
“We must avoid preventable harm and protect patients in the NHS, protect colleagues in the NHS and, of course, protect the NHS itself.”
The requirement will be enforced from April, with parliamentary approval.
No unvaccinated worker should be “scapegoated”, said Mr Javid, and should instead be supported to make “a positive choice”.
Each of the four UK nations makes its own decisions on the issue.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have not made any proposals to make COVID jabs compulsory for NHS workers or care home staff.
Chris Hopson, Chief Executive of NHS Providers which represents England’s NHS trusts, said: “We understand why people are vaccine-hesitant. We need to win the argument with them rather than beat them around the head.”
The possibility of losing staff was a “real problem” as the NHS runs on fine margins and already relies on staff to work extra shifts, he added.
Unison Head of Health, Sara Gorton, said she feared the move might knock staff morale further and prompt workers to leave – or lose their job.
The government should consider alternatives like daily testing – not risk making the same mistake made with mandatory jabs in social care which had led to an “unprecedented staffing crisis”, she added.
To view current COVID-19 vaccination rate statistics, click here.
ACAS has stressed that employers could find it useful to talk with their staff about the vaccine and share the benefits of being vaccinated. Employers should include recognised trade union or staff representatives in any discussions.
It could help to discuss things like:
- The government’s latest vaccine health information.
- How staff can access the vaccine.
- If staff will need time off work to get vaccinated.
- Pay for time off work related to the vaccine.
- Whether the employer plans to collect data on staff vaccinations, and if so, how this will follow data protection law (UK GDPR).
- Whether anyone needs to be vaccinated to be able to do their job, for example if they work in a CQC-registered care home in England or if it’s part of their employment contract.
To encourage staff to get the vaccine, employers might consider:
- Sharing government vaccine health information with staff.
- Offering paid time off for vaccination appointments.
- Paying staff their usual rate of pay if they’re off sick with vaccine side effects, instead of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).
- Not counting vaccine-related absences in absence records or towards any ‘trigger’ system the organisation may have.
- Arranging informal conversations during work time between staff who have had the vaccine and anyone who’s not sure about getting it.
The benefits of talking with staff are highlighted, and a section is included on vaccination in care homes in England. The guidance is available in full here.