Delaying mandatory Covid vaccines for NHS staff would fail to stop “several thousand” people losing their jobs, a health service leader has said.
All frontline healthcare workers in England will need to be double-jabbed by April 1 in order to keep their job, meaning the cut-off date for a first dose is early February.
NHS staff will need to have two doses of the vaccine and official NHS figures show around 85,000 staff have not had any, with a further 40,000 just getting one dose.
Watch: Protestors march against NHS staff vaccine mandate
Bosses will dismiss unvaccinated staff that can not be redeployed to a non-patient facing role.
“A delay gives a little bit more time [to get through winter pressures],” Mr Danny Mortimer, CEO of NHS Employers and deputy CEO of NHS Confederation, told The Telegraph.
“But the bottom line is we could give people another four weeks and we'd still be in a position where several thousand people will lose their jobs on the frontline.”
“I suspect there are lots of people who believe the NHS and Government won't go through with this, that the Government doesn't want to lose a single nurse or a single doctor. But the value of the vaccine far outweighs the loss of a few thousand people.”
The Telegraph reported that the Government is toying with “kicking the can down the road” with the mandate, and considering adding a booster requirement before April 1, effectively pushing the deadline back by six months.
When the idea of compulsory vaccination was first bandied around in late 2021 there were discussions ongoing that April 1 would be a suboptimal deadline, as the NHS would still be grappling with its usual winter surge.
“What we did say when we responded was give us a bit longer, don't don't make us implement this at the height of winter. Because this is our busiest time in the NHS,” Mr Mortimer said.
He believes it unlikely the Government will delay the deadline, and that, come what may, April’s deadline will be enforced.
When approached for comment, a spokesman for the Department for Health told The Telegraph the current plans are not in flux.
“Even if the government turned around next week and delayed the date, there will still be several thousand staff who won't have the jab and those people will be lost to us, they won't be able to have frontline roles,” Mr Mortimer said.
“Of course, we'd rather they stayed, we'd rather we didn't lose them. But the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks.”
It comes as Mark Drakefrord, First Minister of Wales, said he “would not rule out” recruiting unvaccinated NHS staff who had lost their jobs in England.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4, he said it would be done on a case-by-case basis and reiterated Wales will not make vaccines mandatory for NHS staff.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab on Sunday urged healthcare workers to get vaccinated.
“The deadline is there to protect the most vulnerable in our hospitals but we have got the resilience because we have got nearly 5,000 more doctors, nearly 11,000 more nurses than we did in 2020,” he said on the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme.
Watch: Health chief appeals to frontline NHS staff to get vaccinated