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‘Completely unacceptable’ for government to leak covid vax U-turn, says NHS Employers

Published on: 1 Feb 2022

The chief executive of NHS Employers has branded government communication over the scrapping of the mandatory staff vaccination policy as ‘completely unacceptable’.

In an email sent to NHS Employers’ members today, Danny Mortimer said nothing “up until Friday suggested that the [vaccine as a condition of deployment] policy was changing”.

He added: “There was contact with colleagues in government through the weekend, which suggested at least a review of the impact and risks, and possibly the deadline itself… Then two disappointing things happened.

“The [Care Quality Commission] adapted its position on the relative risk of VCOD-based dismissals and shared this via the Sunday Times, and the government let it be known that it would be abandoning VCOD policy, via the pages of the Daily Telegraph.

The Sunday Times reported over the weekend the CQC had confirmed NHS staff would be allowed to continue working on hospital wards beyond the April deadline if they would otherwise be dangerously understaffed.

The CQC responded stating that it had not changed its position, and that the ST story was the product of questions put to the regulator by the paper (see below).

Mr Mortimer’s email said the Daily Telegraph story was a ”completely unacceptable way” for government “to communicate with you and the teams within your organisation.”

Speaking to HSJ today, Mr Moritimer said: “For people to wake up particularly on Monday morning to news the government were about to drop the policy without any warning to them, or anyone else, is no way to communicate with people about an emotionally charged situation.

“This can’t be the way the government wants to communicate with 2.5 million people in health and social care.”

In response to NHS Employers’ concerns, the CQC’s chief inspector of hospitals Ted Baker said they were approached by the Sunday Times about their role in regulating and enforcing compliance with VCOD requirements for NHS staff “in situations where safety is being compromised due to staffing shortages”.

He told HSJ: “In response, we confirmed our previously stated intention to work with the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that this government legislation is implemented fairly and proportionately, but acknowledged that trusts may need to make difficult risk-based decisions in order to determine the safest possible approach in different circumstances.

“This is in line with the position we set out in December last year and does not represent a change in policy, but reflects the fact that new legislation around vaccination as a condition of deployment exists in a wider context of regulatory responsibilities for safe and effective staffing, and our view that any action taken by CQC would need to be proportionate and considered through a proper conversation with the provider.”

Professor Baker said the Sunday Times’ article reflected this but added the headline accompanying it was “misleading” and that a complaint has been submitted as it was an “inaccurate representation of our position”.

The Department of Health and Social Care was approached for comment.