The government is scrapping its mandatory NHS staff vaccination policy just days before the deadline for all patient facing staff to have a first jab.
The health secretary confirmed in the Commons this evening that government would consult on scrapping the “vaccine as a condition of deployment” across all health and social care settings, which it put in place late last year.
Sajid Javid stressed that the replacement of the delta variant of covid by omicron had changed its advice and the balance of risks.
Trust have been preparing to dismiss unvaccinated staff from 4 February, with templates of HR letters warning employees could be dismissed already drafted.
The deadline is expected to be scrapped, with NHS England due to issue guidance on next steps imminently.
This last-minute decision, which follows weeks of speculation, has been described as a ”shambles” and a ”mess” by senior leaders.
Government has said over the past week that it was “reflecting” on the policy, saying that this was because the covid “virus was changing”, with omicron more mild and differently affected by vaccination.
It follows newspaper reports this morning saying the decision was imminent.
Over recent weeks NHS leaders have been prioritising increasing vaccination rates, amid warnings the vaccination as a condition of deployment mandate could threaten the viability of services and impact patient safety.
Particular concerns have been raised about vaccination rates in London and Birmingham.
The policy came into force in social care in November — with approximately 40,000 people losing their jobs as a result — but will now be scrapped.
A former chief executive of NHS England has hit out at an anticipated climbdown on mandatory staff vaccination, posting on social media that “it’s hard to imagine a greater shambles”.
Sir David Nicholson, who was the first chief executive of NHSE, until 2014, and prior to that was the national NHS chief executive, tweeted this morning in response to a Daily Telegraph front page story reporting that a U-turn is due to be made imminently on mandatory covid vaccinations for NHS and social care workers.
Mr Javid told a meeting of the health and social care committee on Tuesday that the policy was “under review”, adding: “We’re reflecting on it because we do have to accept that the virus has changed.”
Sir David, who is now chair of Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust, was responding to a tweet by Conservative MP Steve Baker, which was also commented on by fellow NHS executives in the West Midlands.
Vivek Khashu, strategy and engagement director at West Midlands Ambulance Service, added: “As an NHS director who leads on vaccination, why am I finding this out via a newspaper?
“What about the staff who have already lost their jobs and the distress to them and their employers?”
It comes just days after England’s biggest NHS trust, University Hospitals Birmingham Trust, confirmed that it had “at least” 1,100 unvaccinated workers in scope of the mandatory policy.
Several trusts have spent the past fortnight combing through hundreds of records manually, and seeking to contact staff, to establish which are truly ‘unvaccinated’ rather than ‘unknown’.
At Sir David’s own organisation, board papers published this morning indicate that more than 750 staff at SWBH have an ‘unconfirmed’ vaccination status.
The documents add that work is being undertaken daily to validate data and hence the above figures are subject to change.
In West Midlands Ambulance Service’s latest board papers, from January 2022, bosses suggest that dismissals have already taken place in patient transport services, as many staff were required to enter care homes and therefore came under the scope of the mandation of social care workers.