The Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, has announced that all frontline NHS staff will be required to have the Covid-19 vaccine by Spring 2022.
The government say they have chosen to implement this measure in order to protect the most vulnerable patients, including those with disabilities, people with underlying health conditions and the older population, as they are at higher risk from Covid-19 and are more likely to use health and care services.
Doctors, nurses, dentists all other NHS workers in patient-facing roles (except for those who are medically exempt) will be required to have the vaccine or risk losing their job.
The measures also hope to protect workers as well as patients by preventing unexpected absences which put added pressures on hospitals, GP practices and NHS Trusts, which are already strained.
More than 100,000 NHS workers currently unvaccinated
The government say they deem the measures to be essential, as vaccination remains the single strongest protection against Covid-19. However, some are concerned about the impact the measures could have on staffing.
Campaigners are particularly concerned about the effect this could have on people with disabilities, as reports have continually highlighted that loss of healthcare and social support can be extremely damaging to both physical and mental health.
While 92.8% of NHS workers have had their first dose of the Covid vaccine and 89.9% have had both doses, the government estimates that there are roughly 103,000 NHS workers who are still unvaccinated.
In social care, 83.7% of care workers have had their first dose and 74.6% have had both doses, leaving around 105,000 domiciliary care workers who are yet to be vaccinated.
With both health and social care already facing staffing shortages, if those who are unvaccinated choose to leave their jobs, both sectors could reach crisis point.
“Any reduction in the workforce will impact heavily on patient facing services”
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said although the Association is “pleased” the Government has decided to delay the policy until Spring next year, they are also concerned about the effect the new policy could have on the health service.
“Given the current staffing crisis in the NHS and the possible implications of trying to introduce such measures in the midst of winter pressures, waiting until April is sensible, but it’s equally important that the Government is aware of the consequences this policy could have even after the delay – and that clear steps are taken to mitigate this risk.
“Even if a small number of staff were forced out of work because they are not vaccinated, this would have a big impact on a health service that’s now under constant pressure and already has more than 93,000 unfilled vacancies.
“There may be potential for some healthcare workers to move to non-patient facing roles, and we would urge employers to explore all possible options rather than lose staff completely. Any reduction in the workforce will impact heavily on patient facing services as we face a record backlog of care,” he said.
A further incentive for NHS staff
However, others believe the new law will help to boost uptake and ensure as many people are protected from the virus as possible.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive at the NHS Confederation said the new policy will offer a “further incentive for staff who are eligible but have not come forward yet to get jabbed”.
“For this reason, we are relieved the Government has listened to our plea to roll out the requirement away from what is expected to be the most challenging winter on record.
“This will also give leaders much needed time to continue to engage and support the remaining staff who have not yet been vaccinated and to understand the possible consequences at a local level,” he added.
There will be a 12-week grace period between the regulations being made and coming into force to allow those who have not yet been vaccinated to have both doses.
The requirements are now subject to passage through parliament, with enforcement beginning from 1 April if the measures are approved.