Well over half of GPs are in favour of the NHS Covid vaccine mandate, according to a Pulse survey.
The survey, which was open to GP respondents from 28-31 January, saw 58% of 559 GPs say they are in favour of keeping the mandate in place.
It comes amid news, first reported by The Telegraph, that Government ministers are meeting today to rubber-stamp plans to scrap the mandate due to fears over how it will impact NHS staffing.
Pulse’s survey also found that of 286 GP partners who responded, 102 knew of unvaccinated staff within their practice.
And of those 102 partners, more than two thirds (71%) said they would be unable to redeploy the unvaccinated employees.
Guidance issued by NHS England in January said that staff who remained unvaccinated after April should be redeployed but warned that opportunities for redeployment would be ‘limited’ – and where it was not possible for employers to find an alternative solution, staff could face dismissal.
The survey also revealed that the mandate has already had an impact on staff resignations.
One respondent commented: ‘I agree with it [the mandate] personally, but it has had a huge impact on our practice – we will lose our secretary and our whole nursing team have resigned as a result, as well as one receptionist.’
Another said they would lose ‘almost our entire reception team in a matter of weeks’.
About the vaccine mandate
Thursday 6 January was the start of the 12-week grace period to ensure unvaccinated individuals get their first dose by 3 February and can receive their second dose by the 1 April 2022 deadline.
Currently, two Covid jabs are considered ‘fully vaccinated’ for the mandate, but NHS England has said this is due to include the requirement of a booster jab in the future.
The mandate extends to all non-clinical workers in direct contact with patients, meaning GPs will be banned from deploying unvaccinated public-facing staff.
It will be for the CQC to ensure compliance and in the worst-case scenarios, they could withdraw registration for practices with unvaccinated staff – effectively shutting them down.
Some GP leaders have expressed concern that the mandate may hit the GP practice workforce.
There are ‘no plans’ for Scottish and Welsh Governments to introduce a Covid or flu vaccine mandate for healthcare staff.
For England, flu vaccination mandates have not been ruled out for future winters.
Northern Ireland is planning a public consultation on making Covid vaccination compulsory for ‘new recruits’, but there is still no date for the consultation.
GPs also shared some of their reasons for supporting the mandate.
One said: ‘As a professional I do not want to work with unvaccinated colleagues and as a patient I expect any professionals caring for me to be vaccinated. I fully support the vaccine mandate and believe those that fail to be vaccinated bring the profession into disrepute in addition to placing their colleagues and patients at unacceptable risk.’
Another commented: ‘We have spent ages educating and vaccinating patients giving up weekends and days off. I strongly believe that it is hypocritical for NHS workers to be unvaccinated unless for a medical [reason].’
One GP said Covid vaccination was a ‘no brainer’ and that ‘clinicians and staff must be vaccinated to protect others if not themselves’.
Meanwhile, other GPs commented that while they were vaccinated themselves, they didn’t believe vaccination should be mandatory.
‘I am fully vaccinated, however l deeply believe that vaccination should be a personal choice and not an imposition. There is no mandate for the rest of the population and many of our patients would have refused the vaccine and even the courtesy to wear a mask when seeing face to face a healthcare professional,’ one respondent said.
Another said: ‘I am full[y] vaccinated but this should not be mandated: people must be free to make their own choice.’
And others expressed concern about the loss of experienced staff:
‘I do not think a mandate is a proportional response. I work with a very good GP who is unvaccinated, we may lose him due to this. He is already on the edge of leaving the NHS, and this mandate may be the final straw. Unless you plan to stop everyone smoking, drinking, having sex, being fat etc, I cannot see how you can mandate a vaccine which has some, but not a huge, reduction in transmission with Omicron. If this was Ebola, fair enough, but it is not,’ one respondent commented.
Another said: ‘I do not see why clinicians cannot make their own informed decisions. This is not a nanny state, we cannot afford to lose valuable staff at a time of intense crisis.’
The CQC – which would effectively be policing the vaccine mandate – told The Sunday Times that it would not take action against hospitals which decided to employ unvaccinated staff rather than being dangerously understaffed.
Pulse has asked the CQC whether it would take the same approach to GP practices.
When asked about concerns for losing staff to the NHS vaccine mandate, Mr Javid told a House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee hearing last week that the Government was ‘reflecting’ on the matter. He also said this comes in the light of the Omicron variant presenting as ‘less severe’.
It comes as the Government had last week stood by plans to introduce the mandate from 1 April, while the RCGP called for a delay to the implementation date and LMCs warned that GP staff were already resigning over the requirement.
This story first appeared on our sister title, Pulse.