Covid vaccination is to be made compulsory for the NHS’s 1.45 million staff in England, despite criticism that forcing frontline personnel to get jabbed is heavy-handed and will lead some to quit.
However, the tough new approach will not come into force until April, after Sajid Javid heeded warnings that introducing it soon could lead to an exodus of staff during the winter, the health service’s busiest time of year.
An announcement is due imminently, the Guardian understands.
The health secretary appears to have been influenced by NHS Providers and the NHS Confederation, the two organisations that represent NHS trusts in England, strongly advising him to delay implementing the move until next year.
On Monday, Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, said that while a majority of hospital bosses backed jabs becoming compulsory, more than 90% of them feared it could exacerbate the understaffing that is already endemic across the service.
He highlighted “the potential loss of those staff who don’t take the vaccine when the service is already under huge pressure and carrying 93,000 vacancies”. He said: “The government must recognise the risk of losing unvaccinated frontline staff and support efforts to maximise voluntary take-up first.”
The latest NHS figures show that 90% of NHS personnel in England – 1,303,605 out of 1,452,256 – have had two doses of vaccine. However, as recently as September the figure was as low as 78% – barely three out of four – in some trusts.
One senior NHS source said: “Given the NHS is a horror show just now, with unprecedented pressure all over the place, to chuck an additional spanner in the works by making Covid jabs mandatory now would be foolhardy, and Sajid Javid isn’t a foolhardy politician.”
The policy is likely to be controversial, with many NHS staff groups opposed to it.
“We do not think that making the Covid vaccine mandatory for doctors is either necessary or proportionate. So if it’s true that the Department of Health is pressing ahead with compulsory vaccination we would be very wary,” said Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, which represents all the UK’s doctors professionally.
“While we do think that it is the professional responsibility of doctors to get the jab, when we know that more than 92% of them have already done so, you have to ask why such a heavy-handed approach is being taken, especially when this could well lead to damaging disputes at a local or national level which would be nothing more than a distraction from the real challenges the NHS workforce is facing right now.”