Health and care groups have said they are “disappointed” and “concerned” about the Government’s plans to make coronavirus vaccination mandatory for frontline staff.
Frontline NHS workers and social care staff in regulated settings in England will need to be jabbed to continue in their jobs from April 1 next year, unless they are exempt.
The Government has conceded that the policy could have a “significant impact” on the health and care workforce, estimating that as many as 123,000 could leave their jobs as a result.
The Homecare Association said that, based on current uptake figures and assuming no progress, a quarter of homecare staff in registered services would have to leave.
It estimates this to be between 120-140,000 staff – which could leave 120,000 older and disabled people without vital support.
It says the deadline of April “buys time to attempt to persuade” this group to get jabbed.
Dr Jane Townson, chief executive of the Homecare Association, said the organisation was “disappointed by the Government’s policy decision; their bullying approach towards the health and care workforce”, and their failure to acknowledge the potential risks of losing staff.
She said: “We feel it’s very important to balance the mitigated risk of infection with the risk of unavailability of care at home for highly dependent older and disabled people.
“Vaccination is a key line of defence against serious illness but was only ever part of a wider set of infection prevention and control measures.”
The organisation also said it is disappointed that the Government “appears to be favouring unregulated care”.
The Government has said the requirement applies to health and social care workers in settings regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
The Homecare Association added: “If the Government’s motivation is to ensure safety of older and disabled people, it is hard to understand why ministers would choose to exempt unregulated care, which is not subject to oversight, requirements for care worker training or other checks and balances.”
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) said it is “concerned” about the policy, and said the ethical implications regarding individuals’ right to consent to treatment “will need consideration”.
It also puts those delivering jabs “in a difficult position”, as consent is a “fundamental principle of good healthcare”, it said.
Chairman of the RPS in England, Thorrun Govind, said: “We are concerned that this policy will remove people from frontline care in a system that is under pressure and could affect patient care.
“It may also cause an increase in inequalities across the workforce as those living and working in areas of deprivation are the least likely to be vaccinated, so the provision of care in these areas will be reduced accordingly.
“Compulsory vaccination could have other unintended consequences such as a negative effect on the mental health of NHS teams at a time when many health and care professionals are already experiencing difficulties as a result of workplace stress.”
Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said it is essential that getting vaccinated “remains a free choice for all health and care staff”.
He added: “We know that 98-99% of physicians have been vaccinated, but introducing such a requirement could drive those who choose not to receive the vaccine to leave the NHS.
“That will create further capacity challenges at a time when the health service is already overstretched.”
The chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, said the organisation was pleased that the Government has listened to trust leaders and confirmed the deadline will come months after the busy winter period.
He said: “Had the policy been introduced any sooner, we would have risked worsening the NHS’ current workforce shortages at a time when the health service is already under huge operational pressure. This could have posed a risk to the quality of care we were able to provide.
“Delaying implementation to the spring will help ensure that trusts can maximise their efforts to increase voluntary take up efforts amongst their staff.”