U-turn on mandatory Covid jabs for NHS staff

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The Health Secretary said the measure had been revoked because the public are better protected against the virus and the Omicron strain proved to be milder than other variants. The U-turn comes after warnings of crippling staff shortages if the plan had gone ahead.

Mr Javid told MPs: “Omicron is intrinsically less severe. When taken together with the first factor that we now have greater population protection, the evidence shows the risk of presentation to emergency care or hospital admission with Omicron is approximately half of that for Delta.

“Given these dramatic changes, it is not only right but responsible to revisit the balance of risks and opportunities that guided our original decision last year.”

He added: “While vaccination remains our very best line of defence against Covid- 19, I believe it is no longer proportionate to require vaccination as a condition of deployment through statute.

“We will launch a consultation on ending vaccination as a condition in health and all social care sectors. Subject to the responses and the will of this House, the Government will revert the regulations.”

But that process did not please everyone. The jab requirement for NHS workers had been due to come into force in April, making this Thursday the last possible day on which staff could get their first jab in order to be fully vaccinated in time.

Conservative MP Esther McVey branded Mr Javid’s statement a “disappointment”. She said: “I was hoping I’d be able to congratulate the Secretary of State on the Government’s recent conversion to common sense in halting the mandatory vaccination process of NHS workers.

“Instead, what he’s doing is doing a half-and-half decision today, knowing the Damocles Sword hangs over NHS workers because they’ve got to have their first vaccination on Thursday and then he will be sending them on a pathway to unemployment along with thousands of other care workers who will have lost their jobs.”

But Mr Javid replied: “The Government has made its decision on this and the NHS will be writing today to all NHS trusts, and the department will be contacting care home providers as well in the wider social care settings to make it clear that the deadline is no longer applicable.”

He defended the policy of initially introducing mandatory Covid vaccinations for NHS and social care workers.

He insisted that there was a need to consider the impact on the workforce in NHS and social care settings “especially at a time where we already have a shortage of workers and near full employment across the economy”. 

He added: “In December I argued, and this House overwhelmingly agreed, that the weight of clinical evidence in favour of vaccination outweighed risks to the workforce.

“It was the right policy at the time, supported by the clinical evidence. The Government makes no apology for it. It has also proven to be the right policy in retrospect, given the severity of Delta.”

The Health Secretary said that since September there has been an increase of 127,000 people working across the NHS who have got jabbed and a rise of 32,000 people vaccinated in social care.

He went on: “Given that Delta has been replaced, it’s only right that our policy on vaccination is reviewed. I asked for fresh advice including from the UK Health Security Agency and England’s Chief Medical Officer.”

Labour backed the announcement with Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting telling the Commons: “We understand the difficulties faced by the Government in coming to today’s decision and we will continue to be as constructive and helpful as we can be in a national crisis.”

The move comes after warnings that almost 80,000 healthcare workers would be forced out of their jobs because they declined to take two doses of a vaccine. The Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of GPs have all pushed for the requirement to be delayed, with warnings it would have a “catastrophic” impact.

The legal requirement for care home staff to be fully vaccinated came into effect in November. An estimated 40,000 people lost their jobs over the policy. Under the revised rules, they are expected to be able to return to work.

Figures from NHS England show that 127,515 NHS and domiciliary care staff working had not had a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine as of January 23.

Nadra Ahmed, chairwoman of the National Care Association, said she was “frustrated” and “saddened for the care home staff who had lost their jobs needlessly” owing to the introduction of mandatory vaccination.

She added: “The people who we have lost, we hope they will think about coming back and we will do everything we can to try to encourage them back.”

But Mike Padgham, chairman of the Independent Care Group, said care homes need to be informed whether staff who lost their jobs because they were not vaccinated can return.

He explained: “I think this illustrates the huge gap between NHS care and social care and the way they are treated.

“We were robbed of thousands of staff back in November when the policy came in for care and nursing home workers – and nobody lifted a finger.

“But when a similar threat is levelled towards NHS staff, the policy is reversed.”

Mark Topps, a director at the National Association of Care & Support Workers, claimed it was “disgraceful” that care homes have had to spend time and money on disciplinary proceedings and redundancies potentially for no reason.

Patricia Marquis, the director of RCN England, said: “This climbdown by Government is long overdue. Vaccination is hugely important but this was the wrong policy, especially as it added to the current pressure on NHS and care services.”

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