The RCGP has criticised the Government’s Covid vaccine mandate for NHS staff over concerns it will set a ‘concerning precedent’ and push people out of the workforce.
It comes after the Government yesterday (9 November) confirmed that staff who have direct contact with patients and ancillary staff such as receptionists will have until 1 April 2022 to get both doses.
The DHSC had been advised not to introduce a deadline before spring 2022 to prevent losing staff during the upcoming winter.
However, Professor Martin Marshall, RCGP chair, said the mandate is ‘disappointing and sets a concerning precedent’, given that the workforce is ‘unlikely’ to be in better shape by April.
‘The fact is the vast majority are already vaccinated; they know they are at high-risk of contracting Covid-19 and getting vaccinated will help protect themselves, their colleagues, and their patients,’ he said.
‘But the RCGP believes that informed and educated choices about health interventions are more beneficial long-term than enforced interventions, which risks leading to resentment and mistrust.’
He said that general practice currently needs ‘as need as many people as possible working’, adding that ‘we are unlikely to be in a better position with workforce pressures come next April.’
Government figures published two weeks ago showed that more than nine-in-10 GP practice staff have received two doses of the Covid vaccine, while uptake for the booster vaccine stood at 51%.
Announcing the policy in the House of Commons yesterday, health secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘While our health and social care colleagues are a cross-section of the nation at large there’s no denying that they carry a unique responsibility.
‘They have this responsibility because they are in close contact with some of the most vulnerable people in our society people that we know that are more likely to suffer serious health consequences if they get Covid-19.
‘So whether it’s in our care homes, or in our hospitals – or any other health or care setting the first duty of everyone working in health and social care is to avoid preventable harm to the people that they care for.’
When asked if the new measure would lead to a skills shortage in the NHS, which is already stretched, Mr Javid said that this would be ‘monitored on a day-by-day basis’.
He also announced that flu would not be included in the policy, but ‘the option will remain open’ for future flu seasons.
Mandate praised more widely
Beyond the RCGP, the Government’s vaccine mandate as been largely welcomed with the NHS Confederation claiming it offered ‘further incentive for staff who are eligible but have not come forward yet’.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive at the NHS Confederation, said: ‘For this reason, we are relieved the Government has listened to our plea to roll out the requirement away from what is expected to be the most challenging winter on record.’
And while the BMA says it still holds ‘serious concerns’ about the mandate, it welcomed the decision to delay the deadline until spring of next year.
‘Given the current staffing crisis in the NHS and the possible implications of trying to introduce such measures in the midst of winter pressures, waiting until April is sensible, but it’s equally important that the Government is aware of the consequences this policy could have even after the delay – and that clear steps are taken to mitigate this risk,’ BMA council chair, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said.
Last month, the union for care workers, GMB, called for the mandatory vaccination policy to be dropped or the sector would face losing tens of thousands of key workers.