The Government will ‘remain committed’ to enforcing mandatory vaccines for NHS staff from 1 April, the health secretary has confirmed.
It comes amid mounting pressure from some health bodies and royal colleges to suspend the plans, fearing it may worsen workforce shortages.
In a speech delivered to Parliament yesterday (13 January), Sajid Javid reminded MPs that plans to mandate vaccination for GP practice and hospital staff in direct contact with patients were approved by the House in November.
He said: ‘Since the government consulted on the policy in September, the proportion of NHS trust healthcare workers vaccinated with at least a first dose has increased from 92% to 94%, and we remain committed to putting these measures into force on 1 April.’
The confirmation came despite calls from both the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) for Mr Javid delay the requirement amid high staff absences caused by sickness, self-isolation or burn out.
The RCN had outlined fears that the policy will ‘leave services so stretched that patient safety is at risk’.
It highlighted that there are around 40,000 registered nursing vacancies in the NHS in England, while the RCM estimated that there is already a shortfall of around 2,000 midwives.
Gill Walton, chief executive of the RCM, stated that ‘persuasion and education’ should be used over mandates.
She said: ‘Throughout the pandemic, maternity staff have fought to keep services open and to provide the best care to women and families. It has been unrelenting and so it’s no surprise that staff absence is currently at its highest in the pandemic so far.
‘Moving forward with mandatory vaccination could only see staffing levels fall further. The Government has opened a Pandora’s Box of unforeseen consequences – but there is an opportunity now to close it. We are urging Sajid Javid to do just that.’
Mandatory vaccination for NHS staff from April was announced in November 2021, while care home staff have been required to have received two vaccines since 11 November.
However, Government estimates found that around 126,000 frontline health and social care staff in England could risk losing their jobs after refusing to get a vaccine.