The Government is set to announce mandatory vaccines for frontline NHS workers.
It is understood that ministers intend to announce shortly that compulsory vaccines will be introduced from April for NHS workers in England.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said last week he was “leaning towards” making the jabs compulsory for staff in England, with around 100,000 NHS workers not fully vaccinated.
1/13 Possible Government will announce approach on mandatory NHS staff vaccination this week. Consultation has now closed. A complex issue. Tweet thread follows, based on conversations with, and intelligence from, trust leaders. There are differing views in trust sector…
— Chris Hopson (@ChrisCEOHopson) November 1, 2021
He has appeared to heed warnings from health leaders to postpone the move until spring as the NHS faces a difficult winter, according to reports.
The Government launched a consultation in September seeking views on plans for staff in health and care settings in England to be required to have Covid-19 and flu vaccines to protect vulnerable people.
The Guardian reported that the Department of Health and Social Care could announce mandatory jabs for frontline NHS workers as soon as Thursday.
But the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said “no final decisions have been made”.
It is not clear what officials have planned for the wider social care sector.
The move comes after NHS Providers warned that any additional staffing shortages over winter would cause pressure on the already stretched health system.
“The focus should be on communicating the benefits of vaccination rather than making them mandatory" says @HelenDon_RCN. Read our full response to the Govt's consultation on mandatory #COVID19 vaccination for frontline health and care staff here: https://t.co/DVlGpiqHq6
— RCN Press Office (@RCN_Press) September 9, 2021
On Monday, Chris Hopson, chief executive of the organisation that represents NHS trusts, said that a third of leaders across hospital, mental health, community and ambulance trusts do not favour compulsory jabs for staff.
“If we lose very large numbers of unvaccinated staff, particularly over the winter period, then that also constitutes a risk to patient safety and quality of care,” he told BBC Breakfast.
Mr Hopson urged ministers to give the NHS a long run-up to cover the busy winter period and also enable managers to have conversations with unvaccinated staff.
Plans for mandatory jabs for staff in care homes in England were announced in June, with November 11 the deadline for workers to have received both doses of vaccine.
Data, published last week by NHS England, suggest that around 11% of staff in older adult care homes (around 51,000 staff) had not received two vaccine doses as of October 24.
This means tens of thousands of staff could be dismissed next week.
There are 1,452,256 healthcare workers employed by NHS trusts in England, according to the electronic staff record, with 1.2 million of these frontline staff.
And NHS England figures from October 28 show that 1,347,241 NHS trust workers had received a first dose of a Covid-19 jab – leaving 105,015 staff completely unvaccinated.
The data also shows that almost a quarter (24.8%) of staff working in younger adult care homes and domiciliary care providers have not had both jabs – 119,916 staff.
Three quarters of staff working in other social care settings, including non-registered providers and those employed by local authorities, have had their first jab.
But the figures show that only a third were reported as having been doubled jabbed as of October 24, which suggests 384,174 staff in these settings were not fully vaccinated at this point.
Meanwhile data from Public Health England show that uptake of the flu jab among healthcare workers in England was 76.8% last winter – an increase from 74.3% in 2019/20.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We have taken action to introduce vaccination requirements in care homes and we recently consulted on extending this further across health and other social care services. No final decisions have been made and we will set out our response in due course.
“Vaccines are safe and effective and almost four in five people in the UK have already had both jabs to protect themselves against Covid-19.
“It’s never too late to take up the offer and we would urge everyone who is eligible to come forward as we head into the winter months.”
Commenting, Dr Peter English, a retired consultant in communicable disease control, said: “It may be that as it turned out in New York, while many will threaten to quit if they otherwise have to be vaccinated, very few will do so in reality.”
He added that mandating jabs does risk causing the opposite of what is intended, with potentially fewer healthcare workers getting vaccinated.
The policy may also risk losing healthcare workers “at a time when we are already short of thousands of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers.
“This might work. But I am not certain it isn’t a risky gamble,” Dr English added.
Dr Ben Kasstan, a medical anthropologist at the University of Bristol, added: “While we are waiting for official UK Government confirmation, this policy would be in line with the positions taken by French and US governments.
“It has been suggested in The Guardian that the policy has been delayed until April 2022 out of concern that healthcare staff could stage an exodus during winter, the busiest time of the year for healthcare services.
“Rates of Covid-19 are rising in the UK at the same time as the flu season picks up, so it would be in the interests of public health for all people who can be vaccinated to get vaccinated.
“If vaccinations will not be required until April 2022, there is time to understand why healthcare professionals do not want to accept Covid-19 vaccinations, which might inform communication strategies.”