Fears mandatory COVID-19 vaccination could hit NHS staffing levels if introduced

The BMA has urged the government to carefully consider the impact of mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for NHS workers, warning that the loss of 'even a small number of staff' could be ‘devastating’ for services this winter.

(Picture: Karwai Tang/Getty Images)

Earlier this week health and social care secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News that he was ‘leaning towards’ compulsory vaccines for NHS staff.

New rules requiring GPs and other NHS staff entering a CQC-registered care home to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or have a valid reason for exemption, come into force on 11 November. A government consultation, which closed earler this month, is looking at whether similar rules for mandatory COVID-19 and flu vaccinations should be applied to all NHS staff.

The consultation proposed that the jabs become a condition of employment for all frontline health and care staff. It said that if the plans go ahead, it would mean that 'only those who are fully vaccinated, unless medically exempt, could be deployed to deliver health and care services'.

Speaking earlier this week, Mr Javid said that around 100,000 NHS employees had yet to have their first COVID jab, which means approximately 95% of NHS staff have been fully vaccinated.

Mandatory vaccination

However, BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul has warned that losing healthcare staff through mandatory vaccination would have a ‘big impact’ on services which are already under ‘immense pressure’.

He urged the government to produce an assessment impact to show how the policy would affect staffing levels before pressing ahead with the plans, insisting it would be 'irresponsible' to proceed without doing so.

Dr Nagpaul said the BMA 'fully supported' the COVID vaccination rollout, and that it was important every NHS worker is vaccinated. But he said the threat to staff who refuse the vaccine of losing their job was a ‘grave concern’.

He said: ‘There is an important distinction between believing every healthcare worker should be vaccinated and advocating for mandatory vaccinations; this comes with its own legal, ethical and practical implications that must be considered.

‘One of the BMA’s main concerns is the impact this decision may have on the workforce...even if a small number of staff were forced out of work because they are not vaccinated, this would have a big impact on a health service that’s already under immense pressure.

GP shortage

‘With severe workforce shortages afflicting the NHS, and 93,000 unfilled vacancies, any reduction in healthcare workers could be devastating for patient services as we face a record backlog of care and winter pressures.’

He called on the government to explore options for those who are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons or may refuse, including, for example, remote working, possible redeployment, greater PPE protection and more regular testing.

‘We would like to see the government produce an impact assessment to give an indication of how much this policy may affect staffing levels. It would be irresponsible to move forward with this plan without doing this at the very least, and we would recommend delaying the policy until such time as a more complete understanding of its implications on workforce levels can be reached.’

In September, delegates at the BMA's annual representative backed a motion saying that all doctors should be vaccinated against COVID-19, with a total of 73% supporting the move, unless there is a ‘medical contraindication’.

Earlier this month the BMA warned that the viability of general practice this winter was in doubt, given the current GP workforce shortage and the lack of support provided by the government in its so-called rescue package. Polling by the association suggests more than half of GPs could be prepared to quit the NHS if the government failed to provide the support the profession needs.

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