COVID vaccine mandate could strip 9,000 staff from general practice

General practice could lose around 9,000 staff under government plans to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory from next April - stripping more than one team member from each practice on average.

COVID-19 vaccine (Photo: taa22/Getty Images)

A government impact statement on mandatory COVID-19 vaccination estimates that 73,000 NHS staff, or 4.9% of the total health workforce, will remain unvaccinated and become ineligible to work with patients face-to-face - and may leave their jobs.

A total of 186,730 people work in general practice, suggesting that around 9,150 GP practice staff could be unable to undertake face-to-face work from 1 April next year. With around 6,500 practices in England, each surgery faces losing 1.4 team members on average.

The GPonline analysis of the impact of the vaccine mandate comes as health and social care secretary Sajid Javid admitted that some healthcare professionals would have to leave their jobs as a direct result of the policy - and recognised concerns over the performance of NHS services this winter and beyond.

Mandatory COVID-19 jabs

Mandatory COVID vaccination will ‘add to pressures faced by providers’, the impact statement warns -adding that 'any reduction in the numbers of health and social care staff may lead to reduced or delayed services. The document highlighted ‘potential disruption’ to providers caused by the need to replace staff.

It also said there would be ‘productivity losses’ from inexperienced staff entering teams and staff absences arising from ‘potentially lower morale’ as a result of the measure. Admin costs from the redeployment of workers was identified as another potential side effect.

Meanwhile, ethnic minority groups, younger NHS workers and women could all be ‘significantly impacted’ by the NHS-wide mandate, according to a separate equality impact assessment published by the government.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul welcomed the government's decision not to impose the vaccine mandate until after this winter. He said: ‘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.'

Fragile workforce

However, the BMA chair added: '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.

‘There may be potential for some healthcare workers to move to non-patient facing roles, and we would urge employers to explore all possible options rather than lose staff completely. Any reduction in the workforce will impact heavily on patient facing services as we face a record backlog of care.’

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall warned the move to mandatory vaccination was particularly concerning at a time when general practice needed as many people as possible in posts. He said: ‘We can ill afford to risk losing staff with personal objections to the vaccine, however unfounded those objections may be, and we are unlikely to be in a better position with workforce pressures come next April.’

Government plans to make vaccination mandatory will mean that providers of CQC-regulated activity - including GP practices, hospitals, and services delivering care in patients' homes - will only be allowed to employ staff in roles involving interaction with patients if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

BMA polling suggests the vast majority of doctors are already double-vaccinated. The government has ruled out exemption on religious grounds, but has given pregnant women an extension so they can get vaccinated after they give birth.

Concerns that mandatory vaccination could drive some staff out of roles in general practice come just days after the government admitted it was not on track to meet its manifesto commitment to increase the full-time equivalent GP workforce by 6,000 by 2024.

A recent survey by Lloyds Bank Healthcare Confidence Index revealed that seven in 10 GP practices in England are reliant on doctors close to retirement, while official workforce stats show that the profession has 1,700 fewer fully-qualified, full-time equivalent GPs now than in 2015.

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