Sajid Javid (pictured today) said he was ‘leaning towards’ making vaccines compulsory for NHS staff
Unvaccinated NHS staff are set to be told to get their Covid jabs or lose their jobs under plans being considered by the Government.
Some 100,000 healthcare workers — or seven per cent — are still yet to show up for their first dose in England.
But Health Secretary Sajid Javid said bringing in compulsory jabs was the ‘clear direction of travel’ despite fears staff could quit the health service at a critical time.
He said those who had failed to get the jab were putting seriously ill patients in harm’s way.
Labour said today NHS staff should be ‘encouraged’ to get the vaccine, but that this should not be compulsory. Sir Keir Starmer said the policy would risk pushing thousands out of the health service ahead of a ‘very, very difficult winter’.
Care home staff are already required to get the Covid vaccine to work in the sector, with all expected to be jabbed by November 11.
But this has sparked uproar in the care sector which warns many homes will be forced to close because they won’t be able to find enough vaccinated workers.
It is feared a ‘no jab, no job’ policy could exacerbate staffing shortages in the NHS, with thousands of doctors and nurses positions still unfilled.
Studies show vaccines are safe and slash the risk of someone becoming seriously ill or dying from the virus. They also reduce the risk of catching it in the first place.
The above graph shows the proportion of NHS staff that have been vaccinated against Covid in England. There are some 100,000 employees who are yet to get their first jab
Care homes may have to close because of compulsory staff Covid vaccines
Elderly and vulnerable care home residents could be left at higher risk of catching Covid-19 because of the Government’s ban on unvaccinated staff, it is feared.
Under a tough new law, more than 40,000 frontline carers will be forced out of their jobs within weeks after refusing to get the jab.
But providers were already struggling to fill record numbers of vacancies and say they will be forced to close units, floors or even entire residential homes if they cannot meet required staffing levels from November 11.
This could mean pensioners being moved into hospital wards, where they could be looked after by unvaccinated former care home staff as the ‘no jab, no job’ rule does not currently apply in the NHS.
Care industry bosses are pleading with ministers to put the mandatory vaccination order on hold during the winter, when the health service is already expected to come under huge pressure from another wave of coronavirus cases as well as a resurgence in flu.
Professor Martin Green, chief executive of trade body Care England, said: ‘The Government talks about an integrated system and yet they have not imposed the same rules for vaccination on the NHS. If we have a really severe staff shortage, services will close.
‘It will mean the residents will lose their homes but also that the system will have to find them somewhere else to live and that may put extra pressure on the NHS.’
When asked whether Covid vaccines will be made compulsory for NHS workers, Mr Javid told Sky News: ‘I’m leaning towards doing it.
‘There’s around 100,000 that are not (vaccinated in the NHS) at this point but what we saw with the care sector is that when we announced the policy… then we saw many more people come forward and do the right thing and get vaccinated.
‘That’s what I hope, if we can do the same thing with the NHS, we will see.’
He added: ‘If they haven’t got vaccinated by now then there is an issue about patient safety and that’s something the Government will take very seriously.’
No final decision on the plans has been made, and Mr Javid said it would take ‘some time’ to go through parliament — giving people time to get jabbed.
But he added: ‘I don’t want to put a timeframe on it but it wouldn’t be months and months.’
On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Javid said: ‘We have not made the final decision… but we did have a consultation on that and that closed just a couple of weeks ago.
‘While I’m yet to make the final decision, that is my direction of travel.’
Asked whether this would spark staffing shortages as seen in the social care sector, Mr Javid said: ‘If we do look at that as an example when we announced that — it is soon about to become the legal requirement — we have seen an absolute surge in the number of social care workers that are finally getting their vaccinations.
‘We are told by the CQC there’s around 30,000 at the moment out of a workforce of over a million that have not yet had their vaccination. Of those, a substantial portion will be exempt.
‘So, while there will be an impact on the social care workforce that I would rather not see I think the NET result is a safer social care sector.’
Labour has stopped short of supporting the plans, but said all NHS workers should be ‘encouraged’ to get vaccinated.
Sir Keir said: ‘I think we should encourage all NHS staff to be double-vaccinated and give them the support that they need.
‘I would not make it mandatory. I think that risks lots of people losing their jobs.
‘We’ve got a crisis coming down the tracks for the nhs and it could be a very, very difficult winter. The last thing we can afford is for thousands of people to be pushed out of their jobs in the nhs.
‘The regime that’s been running for the last nine months or so — my wife works in the nhs — is to be either double-jabbed or take negative tests three times a week. That’s what I would focus on rather than going down the route of mandatory vaccination.’
Ministers launched a six-week consultation on compulsory vaccinations for NHS staff at the beginning of last month. Its results are yet to be published.
Some vaccines are already required in parts of the NHS, including the Hepatitis B vaccine for all those working in exposure-prone parts of the health service such as surgery.
Most people who catch the virus are able to clear the infection, but in rare cases it can trigger liver failure, a potentially fatal complication.
NHS leaders have a ‘mixed’ view on compulsory vaccines for NHS workers, Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said.
She told Times Radio: ‘We’ve spoken to our members about this, and it’s a bit of a mixed picture because most of them agree that in some ways, mandating the vaccine could be quite helpful to make sure that more people get the vaccine.
‘But on the other hand, if some people decide they don’t want the vaccine that could lead to staff recruitment and retention problems and we’re going into this incredibly challenging winter.
‘If we start to lose staff during this time that could be incredibly challenging, so it’s a it’s a real balance.’
Jeremy Brown, professor of respiratory medicine at University College London Hospitals, who sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, told Sky News: ‘If you’re frontline NHS staff dealing with patients and meeting the general public you should be vaccinated – it’s a professional thing, it’s a safety thing.
‘We know that quite a few infections have occurred in the hospital have potentially come from staff rather than patients.
‘And 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 it professionally each person should be vaccinated.’
He said he would not answer a question about whether staff should lose their jobs if they were not vaccinated, but added: ‘I think they should change their role, perhaps, not lose their job.’
Care home bosses already fear they may have to close because of the Government’s ban on unvaccinated staff, with 40,000 frontline workers still to get jabbed.
Providers were already struggling to fill record numbers of vacancies, and say they will likely need to close units, floors or even entire residential homes when the policy comes in to force.
This could mean pensioners are moved to hospital wards, where they could be looked after by unvaccinated former care home workers.
Care industry bosses are already pleading with ministers to put compulsory vaccination orders on hold over the winter, when they are already expecting to come under huge pressure from Covid and flu.