The health minister has stated that starting in April, frontline NHS personnel and those working in social care would be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to maintain their employment.
Sajid Javid told the Commons that in reaching the decision to require COVID jabs for health and broader social care settings, he had taken into account the consultation as well as advice from officials and NHS leaders.
“We must minimise avoidable injury and protect patients, colleagues, and, of course, the NHS itself,” he told MPs.
Mr Javid said that 90% of NHS workers had got at least two doses of the COVID-19 vaccination, however he acknowledged that the proportion is “near to 80%” in some institutions.
According to the most recent data, over 103,000 health-care employees in England, as well as 105,000 domiciliary care workers, are still unvaccinated.
“It’s difficult to predict what proportion of that number will accept the vaccine offer,” Mr Javid added.
“If we look at what has happened with social care, care homes, there has been a considerable drop in the corresponding number since that policy was revealed, and I believe we can surely expect that here.”
The change will affect doctors, nurses, dentists, and domiciliary care workers, as well as ancillary employees such as porters and receptionists who may have contact with patients but are not directly involved in their care. Volunteers are impacted as well.
Only those who have no direct contact with patients or who are medically exempt will be excused from vaccination.
Meanwhile, the health secretary stated that employees will not be compelled to get a flu shot this winter, but this is still under review.
Mr Javid stressed that the government’s decision to go through with mandatory COVID vaccinations for NHS workers does not mean it is disregarding concerns about “workforce pressures” this winter.
“With this in mind, we’ve elected to delay the condition’s implementation until 12 weeks following legislative approval, giving remaining colleagues time to make the positive decision to safeguard themselves and those around them, as well as time for workforce planning,” he stated.
“Let me be clear: no one who is presently unvaccinated in the NHS or in care should be blamed, singled out, or shamed.”
“That is completely unacceptable.” It’s about assisting them in making a favourable decision to safeguard vulnerable individuals and their coworkers. And, of course, to keep themselves safe.”
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said the party wants to see NHS workers vaccinated, but advised the government to “move with care” because of the risk of personnel shortages.
“There will be concern at trust level that a policy, no matter how admirable in theory, would worsen some of these chronic staff shortage problems – we simply cannot afford to lose thousands of NHS staff overnight,” he added.
Mark Harper, a Conservative MP, expressed worry about the impact of thousands of unvaccinated workers quitting the health and social care sectors.
Before MPs voted on the vaccination mandate, he encouraged the government to provide a strategy to “deal with what seems like will be something like tens of thousands of NHS personnel who, if the care home workforce is any indication, are going to end up abandoning the national health service.”
More information on the matter will be released later Tuesday, according to the health secretary.
COVID shots are already required for care home staff, with a deadline of Thursday for them to be completely immunised.
Mr Javid told MPs that the quantity of care home staff who have not received at least one dosage has decreased from 88,000 to 32,000 since the announcement in June.
Pat Cullen, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said the “great majority” of nursing workers in the NHS had had the vaccine “as soon as it was available.”
“With only five months until this decision takes effect,” she added, “the government and businesses must continue to communicate with the small minority of people who have decided not to receive the vaccination.”
“The NHS has always been clear that staff should obtain the life-saving COVID vaccine to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their patients, and the overwhelming majority have already done so,” NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said.
“We will continue to work with NHS organisations to encourage employees who have not yet had the immunisation to take advantage of the evergreen offer.”
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