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Speculating on mandatory Covid vaccines for NHS staff ‘unhelpful’, NHS Confederation says

by Jess Hacker
21 April 2021

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Speculating on whether the Covid-19 vaccine should be mandated for NHS staff is ‘unhelpful’, given that focus should be placed on increasing vaccine confidence, NHS Confederation has said.

It follows an announcement from the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) last week (14 April) that it was launching a consultation on whether mandatory vaccinations should be introduced for care home workers.

Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, told Management in Practice: ‘We know from our conversations with health leaders that they are unlikely to welcome a move to mandating the vaccine for NHS staff, and speculation around this is unhelpful when the focus is on increasing vaccine confidence and the approach taken to date to encourage uptake through informed consent, currently remains the preferred option.’

Dr McCay added that although vaccine uptake is generally high among NHS staff, ‘it is lower than it should be in some areas and this is a concern’.

To this end, focus should be placed on tackling misinformation ‘head on’ and targeting those ‘most in need’ of receiving the vaccine.

Should vaccination be compulsory?

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) had previously recommended that 80% of staff and 90% of residents in care homes need to be vaccinated to provide a minimum level of protection against Covid outbreaks.

However, the DHSC said that only 53% are currently meeting this threshold.

The proposals – to be consulted over the next four weeks – would aim to make vaccination compulsory for care workers to stem this.

The DHSC did clarify that it will not include members of staff who are able to give evidence that they are exempt from vaccination, and will not impact staff working with younger disabled or vulnerable adults.

Health secretary Matt Hancock also said that making vaccines ‘a condition of deployment’ was something that ‘many care homes have called for’ to help provide greater protection to staff and residents.

Compulsory vaccines ‘wrong approach’

The trade union Unison told the Government it should instead direct resources to areas of the UK with low Covid vaccine uptake rather than make vaccinations compulsory for care home staff.

Christina McAnea, general secretary of Unison, said: ‘Boosting the number of vaccinations in the social care sector is essential for everyone’s safety. But mandatory jabs are the wrong approach and a massive distraction.’

She added that the Government should be focusing its efforts on targeting adverts to care staff, addressing misinformation, and ‘lining up already-jabbed colleagues to offer reassurance’.

A heavy-handed approach could also lead to some staff resigning, Ms McAnea said, leaving behind a ‘poorly paid sector’ and damaging the quality of care for elderly and vulnerable people.

‘Resources should be ploughed into areas of the UK with low take-up rates to persuade rather than coerce nervous care workers. ​Care employers should give staff time off work to make it as easy as possible for all concerned,’ she added.