Trusts will be told next week how they should go about dismissing potentially thousands of NHS staff who have decided not to be vaccinated against covid, HSJ has learned.
Last year, the government decided all patient-facing NHS staff would need to have received their first dose of the covid vaccine by 3 February, and two doses by April 2022. The stipulation covers non-clinical staff who may have face-to-face contact with patients, such as receptionists, porters and cleaners.
NHS England published the first part of its guidance for employers in December last year, which warned staff who have to be redeployed because of a refusal to have the covid vaccination could be forced to compete for their job and also have their pay and pension affected.
HSJ understands NHSE will issue its ‘phase two’ guidance’ next week.
To date, government and NHSE announcements or guidance have not mentioned what will happen to patient-facing staff who refuse to be redeployed or are exempt from the requirement.
However, HSJ understands the new guidance will make it clear that — while redeployment remains the preferred outcome — some staff are likely to be dismissed and trusts should be prepared for taking that action next month.
HSJ understands some trusts are already forging ahead with their plans. Sources confirmed major London acute Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust has communicated that some staff could be issued with dismissal notices from 3 February if they are not first-jabbed on time, are not exempt, or cannot be redeployed.
Around 5 per cent of NHS workers are likely to be unvaccinated by the February deadline, but the proportion will vary significantly across the country. For example, 12 per cent of health and care workers are currently unvaccinated in the north east London area.
HSJ also understands healthcare unions are likely to call for an extension to the February deadline, due to the pressure the service is under.
A Guy’s and St Thomas’ FT spokesperson said: “In line with other NHS trusts, we are following government guidance which requires staff to have received two doses by 1 April and will do everything we can to safely redeploy unvaccinated staff where this is possible.
“Getting vaccinated is the best way for staff to protect themselves, their families and patients from covid-19, and we are supporting them to do this as soon as possible.”
An NHS CEO at a different London trust told HSJ their organisation has also decided to “crack on and do it [the new regulations]”.
They added: “To delay simply puts off the inevitable and colludes with a narrative that this is a mean thing to require. It’s the law. We are not above it and it’s one of the most important public health interventions of a generation. To prevaricate helps no one.”
A CEO of a teaching trust in the south told HSJ: “I think it will be a risk to organisations and some particular services. We are working with our HR to do everything we can to support staff to comply and are currently having many conversations. I don’t think we’ll know the final definite ‘hold outs’ until the end of next week. However, given current sickness rates any numbers in double or triple digits would be really challenging.”
A trust CEO from the midlands said: “It’s certainly a worry. We have written to all staff in a softly softly manner and they are now having discussions with line managers with the option to ‘refer’ to some lead consultants who have agreed to help to persuade. I am not sure whether that, and a bit of redeployment will get us over the line.”
They added: “Fortunately, we have small pockets [of unvaccinated staff] but other trusts talk of bigger cliques of staff where there may be a bit of peer pressure to hold their ground.”
Another midlands CEO said: ”Our big worry locally is mental health where there is a disproportionate low uptake in an already very troubled sector.”