By Charlotte Webster-
Frontline NHS staff in England will have to be fully vaccinated against Covid to protect patients – and the NHS, the health secretary has announced today.
A deadline is to be set for 1 April next year to give unvaccinated staff time to get both doses, Sajid Javid told the Commons.
The major announcement will put many staff on the spot, with many likely to decide to quit their job or toe the line of government policy. Many of those against getting the vaccine feel very strongly about it, as do many of those who advocate its importance.
Sajid confirmed that about 103,000 NHS workers in England remain unvaccinated.
The government’s decision follows a consultation which began in September and considered whether both the Covid and flu jabs should be compulsory for frontline NHS and care workers.
”Ensuring the maximum number of NHS staff are vaccinated will help ensure the most vulnerable patients gain the greatest possible levels of protection against infection.
The measures will also protect workers, which is important for hospital trusts where extensive unexpected absences can put added pressure on already hardworking clinicians providing patient care.
The regulations will apply to health and social care workers who have direct, face-to-face contact with people while providing care – such as doctors, nurses, dentists and domiciliary care workers, unless they are exempt.
They will also apply to ancillary staff such as porters or receptionists who may have social contact with patients but are not directly involved in their care. This will apply across the CQC-regulated health and social care sector
Elderly people, those with disabilities and some seriously ill people in hospital face a higher risk from COVID-19 than the wider population, and are more likely to use health and care services more often”, excerpt from a press release from the Department Of Health read.
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.
The majority of NHS workers are already vaccinated, as over 92.8% have had their first dose and 89.9% have had both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. In social care, 83.7% of domiciliary care workers have had their first dose and 74.6% have had both doses.
In a statement to MPs, Mr Javid said responses to the consultation showed there was support for compulsory vaccination but also concerns that some people might choose to leave their jobs over the policy.
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.”
He said the requirement would be enforced from April, with parliamentary approval.
No unvaccinated worker should be “scapegoated or shamed”, said Mr Javid, and should instead be supported to make “a positive choice”.
Scotland and Wales have not made any proposals to make Covid jabs compulsory for NHS workers or care home staff, while in Northern Ireland there is to be a public consultation.
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.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth urged Mr Javid to proceed with caution – pointing to waiting lists “close to six million” and more than 90,000 job vacancies across the NHS.
There will be anxiety that chronic understaffing problems could be exacerbated, he said. “We simply cannot afford to lose thousands of NHS staff overnight.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said:
”Vaccines save lives and patient safety is paramount. Many of the people being treated in hospitals or cared for at home are the most vulnerable to COVID-19. We have a responsibility to give patients and staff the best possible protection.
We have consulted closely with the sector and will introduce new regulations to ensure people working in healthcare are vaccinated from next spring.
I want thank everyone who works in health and social care for the amazing work they do. If you haven’t come forward for your jab yet, please do so. We are determined to support you in this process”.