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Sajid Javid set to confirm to MPs decision to press ahead despite oppositions of unions and some doctors’ organisations.

All 1.4 million NHS staff in England will have to be vaccinated against Covid by next spring if they want to keep their jobs, Sajid Javid will confirm to MPs on Tuesday.

The health secretary has decided to press ahead with making jabs compulsory despite health unions and some doctors’ organisations voicing strong opposition.

The move means that about 100,000 frontline personnel who have not yet had both doses of Covid vaccine will have to get jabbed or face dismissal. Many of them are women who are or hope to become pregnant or who are from a minority ethnic background.

Javid considered bringing in the new requirement before this winter, but opted to delay it until what is thought likely to be April 2022 after warnings that doing that sooner would exacerbate NHS understaffing by triggering an exodus of key personnel at the time when the health service is under its greatest pressure.

The minister believes that, while some NHS staff may leave, making jabs mandatory will drive up vaccination rates by prompting refuseniks to finally get vaccinated in the same way that has already occurred with care home staff, who have to be immunised by this Friday or risk losing their job. While some care home workers are quitting rather than getting jabbed, vaccination rates in that sector have risen sharply since Javid announced in June that he was making it compulsory.

He believes the change will enhance patients’ safety by making them less likely to contact Covid in healthcare settings from an NHS worker.

The latest official statistics show that about 90% of NHS staff have already had two doses. In all 1,303,605 of the 1,452,256 NHS staff in England (89.8%) had received both jabs by 24 October, according to the NHS’s electronic staff record.

The Royal College of GPs was among a host of medical bodies that opposed compulsion. That “risks leading to resentment and mistrust” among NHS staff, it said. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists also voiced unease. “Taking away the choice of whether to have the vaccine or not could impact on staff morale along with affecting staffing levels,” it said. It also lobbied for NHS staff who are pregnant to be exempt from the tough new approach.

The British Medical Association said last month it would be irresponsible to push ahead with mandatory jabs until the Department of Health and Social Care had published an impact assessment of how many staff would quit rather than get jabbed. “We would recommend delaying the policy until such time as a more complete understanding of its implications on workforce levels can be reached,” the doctors’ union said.

But Jeremy Brown, a professor of respiratory medicine at University College London hospitals NHS trust and member of the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said all health workers should get jabbed as a “matter of professional pride”.

“If you’re not vaccinated, I feel, you shouldn’t be dealing with patients or the general public. Whether it should be compulsory it is always a tricky thing but I do think professionally each person should be vaccinated,” he said last month.

Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents health service trusts in England, said on Tuesday that compulsion would improve take-up by staff.

“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”, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“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.”


Article written by: Denis Campbell

Photo credit: Dinendra Haria/Sopa Images/Rex/Shutterstock


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