Minsters could trigger a workforce exodus in the health service by imposing mandatory vaccinations on NHS staff, health bosses have warned.
Health secretary Sajid Javid said last week he is “leaning towards” making a Covid jab a condition of employment for NHS staff after a similar measure was brought in for staff working in care homes.
Around 100,000 staff in the health service are yet to have a Covid vaccination and an announcement by ministers could come within days. The NHS in the UK employs about 1.4 million full-time staff and hospitals are already in the grip of an NHS workforce crisis.
NHS Providers, which speaks for NHS trusts in England, warned the government needed to acknowledge the risk to patient safety if thousands of unvaccinated NHS staff opted to leave their jobs rather than have the vaccine.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said the Department of Health and Social Care should consider delaying the move until after the winter, which he said was likely to be “very, very difficult”.
Mr Hopson, said: “The government needs to explicitly acknowledge the risk to patient care and safety from the NHS losing unvaccinated frontline staff and publicly say they’ll do all they can to work with the NHS to manage this risk. Trust leaders want to hear government understands this risk.
“We know that there are still a number of staff who have yet to take up vaccinations, despite a lot of encouragement and support. There are some groups – for example women thinking of having children – where take-up rates are lower.”
He said around two-thirds of NHS bosses supported mandatory vaccinations and a third were against the idea. He added: “Everyone agrees there are two risks to manage here, not one. Not just the risk of Covid/flu cross infection from unvaccinated NHS staff. It’s also about managing the risk of losing unvaccinated staff when the NHS is at full stretch and carrying 93,000 vacancies.
“The issues currently facing social care providers illustrate the very significant scale of risk to care/patient safety if we get this wrong.”
The Care Quality Commission last month warned there were severe shortages in the social care sector with vacancies jumping from 6 per cent to 10 per cent since September.
Some care providers have been unable to recruit enough staff and instead have been forced to close their services leaving some patients stranded in hospitals without care.
Mr Hopson cited examples in Cornwall where NHS staff have been sent into care settings to keep services running.
From 11 November, care homes must only allow workers who are fully vaccinated against Covid to work in the homes unless they have an exemption.
Mr Hopson told BBC Breakfast: “If we lose very large numbers of unvaccinated staff, particularly over the winter period, then that also constitutes a risk to patient safety and quality of care.”
Mr Hopson continued: "We know – and the chief medical officer has said this really clearly – that we've got a very, very difficult winter coming up and we know the NHS is going to be absolutely at full stretch. So it makes sense to set the deadline once that winter period has passed.
“We know that January, February, often early March is very busy, so that's why we're saying today that we think an April 2022 deadline is a sensible time.”
Addressing the issue in social care, he added: “In mid June, the government announced it was going to be moving towards mandating staff vaccination, and the deadline they said was mid-November, so there was a five-month run-up.
"And what we're saying in the NHS is we need that length of run-up as well.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson, said: “We have taken action to introduce vaccination requirements in care homes and we recently consulted on extending this further across health and other social care services. We will set out our response in due course.
“Vaccines are safe and effective and just under 80 per cent of the UK population have already had both jabs to protect themselves against Covid-19. As winter approaches, we urge anyone who is eligible to get their booster jab now.”
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