The government has estimated 73,000 NHS staff will no longer be eligible to work with patients face to face and may leave their jobs, as a result of it making covid-19 vaccination compulsory.
Today, health secretary Sajid Javid announced all patient-facing NHS staff – including non-clinical staff who may have face-to-face contact with patients, such as receptionists, porters and cleaners – will need to have received two doses of the covid jab by 1 April 2022.
Staff will not be able to refuse the vaccine on religious grounds, according to government documents, as it would be “difficult to prove” and could significantly reduce the policy’s impact. The government will, however, be providing exemptions for those workers for whom the “vaccination is not clinically appropriate”.
According to an impact statement published alongside the consultation response, the government has predicted 73,000 NHS workers will “not [have] fulfilled the conditions of deployment by the end of the grace period”, although it added “it is uncertain how many and when workers may choose to leave their jobs rather than have a vaccination”.
A further 15,000 staff in the independent sector and 35,000 staff in domiciliary care and other health services are also predicted not to be eligible to work on the frontline by next April, according to the document.
The 73,000 forecast for the NHS is much smaller than the current number of NHS staff who have not had the vaccine, due to a prediction that many will choose to have it by the spring. NHS England statistics indicate that, as of 31 October, about 146,000 had trust staff had not received two doses, but the changing definition of “frontline” means it cannot be directly compared.
Workers will be required to have two doses of the jab under the new rules but initially a booster dose will not be mandatory. This will be reviewed during the next financial year.
The document acknowledged: “Any reduction in the numbers of health and social care staff may lead to reduced or delayed services.”
The announcement comes as 5.7 million people are awaiting treatment.
Minority groups and younger workers
Meanwhile, an equality impact assessment recognised ethnic minority staff, people with certain religious beliefs and younger workers would all be “significantly impacted” by the proposals due to vaccine hesitancy among these groups.
Women might also be significantly affected as they make up a higher proportion of the NHS frontline workforce and experience higher barriers to accessing the vaccine.
The government documents noted there was uncertainty over how the workforce gaps would be filled, as, while some shortfalls will be covered by temporary staff, the “effective capacity” in the temporary labour market is “unknown”.
The policy impact statement said: “If a proportion of staff decides to leave the NHS, this would put pressure on NHS services.
“This is likely to be more acute in clinical staff groups where there are existing staff shortages and lags in labour supply caused by education and training requirements, but all services are likely to be impacted.”
It is predicted the highest proportion of NHS staff will leave towards the end of the grace period, at the end of March, as this reflects what happened in care homes.
Care home workers have until Thursday to receive two doses of the jab.
The decisions to make covid jabs mandatory of NHS staff follows a two-month consultation which looked into whether both the covid and flu jabs should be made compulsory. Mr Javid confirmed the flu jab would not be compulsory at this stage.
There were more than 34,900 responses to the consultation, of which 65 per cent of which did not support making the covid-19 vaccination compulsory for healthcare staff.
Of the responses from organisations employing health and social care staff and their managers, 94 per cent raised concerns staff would leave their jobs as a result of the policy and 80 per cent were worried about the time it would take to recruit new staff if people did leave.
The Care Quality Commission will be in charge of monitoring healthcare services to ensure unvaccinated staff are not deployed, and “take enforcement action in appropriate cases”.