The Government should immediately delay plans for mandatory Covid-19 vaccination of NHS staff in England if a ‘catastrophic impact’ on services is to be avoided, unions have said.
This is according to the RCN and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), which both warned this week that health services are already facing understaffing – and the requirement for all patient-facing NHS staff to be fully vaccinated by 1 April could worsen workforce shortages.
In a statement released today, the RCN outlined fears that the policy ‘leave services so stretched that patient safety is at risk’. And the RCM warned yesterday that the policy could ‘plunge’ maternity services and the wider NHS into ‘meltdown’ and have a ‘catastrophic impact’.
Both organisations stressed healthcare staff should be vaccinated, but that health and social care secretary Sajid Javid should delay the mandatory requirement amid high absences among healthcare staff because of sickness, self-isolation or burning out.
The RCM estimates that there is already a shortfall of around 2,000 midwives in England, while the RCN pointed out that there are around 40,000 registered nursing vacancies in the NHS in England.
Pat Cullen, RCN chief executive, said: ‘Nothing matters more to a nurse than caring for their patients safely. Right now, our members are telling me they can’t always do that…
‘Nursing staff, who are well-placed to understand people’s concerns and are highly trusted by them, have led the Covid-19 vaccination programme and have a key role to play in addressing any concerns people may have about being vaccinated.’
Gill Walton, RCM chief executive, agreed the ‘hammer blow’ mandatory vaccination is not the ‘correct approach’. Instead, ‘persuasion and education’ should be used, she said.
She continued: ‘Throughout the pandemic, maternity staff have fought to keep services open and to provide the best care to women and families. It has been unrelenting and so it’s no surprise that staff absence is currently at its highest in the pandemic so far.
‘Moving forward with mandatory vaccination could only see staffing levels fall further. The Government has opened a Pandora’s Box of unforeseen consequences – but there is an opportunity now to close it. We are urging Sajid Javid to do just that.’
Mandatory vaccination for NHS staff from April was announced in November 2021 , with health and social care secretary Sajid Javid arguing the move was necessary to ‘avoid preventable harm’.
But the Government’s own estimates, also made in November, have found around 126,000 frontline health and social care staff in England could risk losing their jobs after refusing to have the jab.
Care home staff in England have been required to be double-vaccinated against Covid-19 since 11 November, with care providers reporting that staff have left because of the policy.