Frontline NHS staff must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 in England to continue to do their jobs.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed the rule in the Commons on Tuesday (9 November), which will require staff to have both vaccine doses by spring next year.
Mr Javid said there is no doubt that health and social care staff “carry a unique responsibility” in the work they do and that mandatory jabs are needed to “avoid preventable harm”.
The move will affect more than 100,000 healthcare staff working in the NHS in England who still remain unvaccinated.
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It follows the rule made for care home workers in England earlier this year who have already been told they must be fully vaccinated by the deadline of Thursday 11 November.
Mr Javid said the decision to make jabs mandatory for care home staff has meant that the number of people working in care homes who have not had at least one dose has fallen from 88,000 to just 32,000 at the start of last month.
What is the vaccine deadline for frontline NHS staff?
Mr Javid confirmed that the rule requiring frontline staff to be fully vaccinated will be enforced from 1 April next year and will apply to health and wider social care settings that are regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
Only workers who do not have face-to-face contacvt with patients, or are medically exempt, will not be required to have two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.
It will not be compulsory for staff to have a winter flu vaccination, although the option remains under review, Mr Javid said.
Almost a quarter (23.3%) of staff working in younger adult care homes and domiciliary care providers have not been reported as being fully jabbed as of 31 October, according to NHS England figures. This amounts to 116,871 members of staff.
Additionally, tens of thousands of care home staff were not recorded as being double jabbed as of 31 October, meaning they are set to lose their jobs this week.
Care groups are calling for the mandatory vaccine policy to be axed or delayed to allow providers to get through winter without more staff being forced to leave.
Who are frontline health workers?
The Government has said mandatory vaccines will apply to all public facing health and wider social care settings that are regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).Only those who do not have face-to-face contact with patients, or are medically exempt, will not be required to get vaccinated.As such, compulsory jabs will apply to the following NHS workers in England:
- social and care workers
Why will vaccination be made compulsory?
The decision to make vaccination compulsory comes following a consultation which started in September, which considered whether both the Covid-19 and flu jabs should be mandatory for all frontline healthcare staff.
It is understood that only the Covid-19 vaccine will be made mandatory and exemptions will be in place for staff who cannot have the jab for medical reasons.
No proposals to make jabs mandatory for NHS workers or care home staff in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have yet been made.
Mr Javid told MPs: “Allow me to be clear that no-one in the NHS or care that is currently unvaccinated should be scapegoated, singled out or shamed. That would be totally unacceptable.
“This is about supporting them to make a positive choice to protect vulnerable people, to protect their colleagues. And of course to protect themselves.
“The take-up throughout the NHS in England is 93% of the first dose, 90% of two doses, and that does leave – the latest number I have – 103,000 people in the NHS, that work for the NHS, that are unvaccinated, so not even one jab. It’s hard to know what portion of that number will take up the offer of vaccination.
“If we look at what has happened with social care – care homes – since that policy was announced, there was a significant fall in the equivalent number and I think we can certainly expect that here.”
NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said he believes that if the rule is approached in England in the right way, it could help to boost vaccine take-up.
Mr Hopson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If you look at other nations that have done this, there is no doubt that if you do it carefully, at the point when you announce the fact that you are going to have mandatory vaccinations in the sector, it does provide quite a useful opportunity to then have those kind of further conversations.
“So, if we get it right, actually, it could be quite a useful spur in some senses to drive the take-up up, but the bit that we just need to be careful of, as I said, is avoiding scapegoating people.
“The problem for both social care and the NHS is we run these systems incredibly hot on very, very fine margins. Both of us have got around 90 to 100,000 vacancies.
“We are completely reliant on our staff to … work extra shifts in order to do the work that needs to be done.
“So losing significant numbers of staff, particularly given the pressure that both of the systems are under at the moment, is a real, real problem.
“And that’s why we’re very clear with the Government they need to help us manage this risk.”
Unison head of health Sara Gorton said that vaccination rates are already high across the NHS and called for ministers to invest their efforts in boosting voluntary take-up instead of making a compulsory order.
She said: “Instead of compulsion, ministers should be looking at redoubling their efforts to boost voluntary take-up, which is already more than 90%.
“Mandatory jabs in social care have prompted an unprecedented staffing crisis.
“The Government should be careful not to make the same mistake twice. It should also consider practical alternatives like daily testing.”