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‘We have done our own risk assessments’: the NHS staff defying the vaccine mandate

Published on: 24 Jan 2022

NHS workers protesting against the requirement for all patient-facing staff to be vaccinated against covid have told HSJ the government is relying on “brute force” to push the “soul destroying” measure through and that it sets a “dangerous precedent” which could undermine the principle of “informed consent”. 

Staff from Queen’s Hospital in Romford, east London, were joined by members of the local community and campaigners last Friday to protest against the government’s insistence that all patient-facing staff must be vaccinated against covid.

The NHS faces having to potentially dismiss thousands of unvaccinated workers in the coming weeks if they refuse to have their first jab by 3 February. Services such as maternity could struggle in many geographies if the move goes ahead. 

There were increasing indications over the weekend that the deadline would be pushed back or even that the measure would be dropped altogether. However, for the moment, the service is pressing on with checking the vaccination status of all staff, working out redeployment plans and preparing to dismiss those who are not inoculated before the deadline.

HSJ spoke with several staff members at the Romford protest who said that, although they are not against people being vaccinated if they wished, they were worried about the impact the mandate would have on services and feared that it could potentially set a “dangerous precedent”.

Colette Green, a musculoskeletal physiotherapist at the hospital who is unvaccinated, said she joined the protests to “fight for our right to informed consent and bodily autonomy”.

She told HSJ: “It should not be a uniform healthcare approach to everybody, that is not how healthcare works. You always take an individualised approach. We do that every day with our patients.

“We get our patient in, we give them the risks and the benefits of the treatment, we look at them individually and decide what is best for them.

“We do not give out blanket healthcare decisions to everybody. That is not how healthcare works.”

Ms Green, who has worked at the trust for four years, said she changed careers to become a physiotherapist and is “gutted” by the rule.

She said: “I am a single mother, I have got two young children and a mortgage to pay, and I genuinely love my job… I have a lower salary but I much prefer what I do. I love looking after my patients, I am really passionate about my job, so I am absolutely gutted.

“But at the end of the day, I am not going to be forced to take an injection I do not want. I am prepared to lose my job over it.”

Saif, another physiotherapist at the hospital, is vaccinated but says he supports his colleagues who do not want to receive the covid jab.

He told HSJ: “If the NHS is willing to just let them [unvaccinated staff] all go, that is going to have a huge impact.

“They also say we are struggling in the NHS at the moment. Think about how much more we are going to struggle with a lack of people”.

“Then what, they are going to go on a manhunt to try and find people who are vaccinated and make sure they are going to do all these preliminary medical checks?

“That is going to take ages and that is just going to cost the NHS a ton more [money]. It is just going to cause a huge backlog, which could end up with a lot more mortality and morbidity.”

Saif said he hoped the government would “at least have a negotiation” with trust chief executives and “listen out to the concerns” NHS staff had, but added he felt the government was using “brute force” to get the vaccine mandate enforced.

Meanwhile, Donna, a practice development nurse who is also unvaccinated and has worked at the trust for 11 years, said she was concerned about the impact that would be felt by its maternity services come April.

She told HSJ: “Giving birth is a stressful time as it is, and everyone’s emotions are high as it is.

“You do not want to be phoning up your midwife and saying, ‘I think my waters are broken, I think my baby is coming,’ and they say, ‘I’m sorry, we need to send you 40 minutes down the road. Try and get in the car and try to make your way somewhere else. It’s devastating.”

Donna said she would not be “forced” into taking the jab but found the prospect of losing her job “soul-destroying,” adding: “I came straight out of college and into training to be a nurse, and nursing is all I have ever done.”

She explained: “The huge majority of us within the group have had all of our vaccines up until this point. It is just in particular with the covid one that a lot of us have done risk analysis assessments and seen what the risks are against the benefits, and we just feel this particular vaccine is not us and we should have that right to decide.”

Matthew Trainer, chief executive of Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust, which runs Queen’s Hospital, said the trust is approaching all unvaccinated staff with “compassion and respect”.

He added: “The vast majority of my colleagues have been vaccinated. I want this to be the case for all staff, as not doing so puts you at greater risk of serious illness and death. 

We are working with individuals to listen to their worries, address their concerns and encourage them to choose to have the vaccine.”