The most senior nurses and midwives in the country have called for the government to delay its deadline for all NHS staff to be vaccinated against Covid, over fears it could “backfire”.
From 1 April 2022 all NHS staff will be required by law to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, meaning all those who have yet to have a first dose will need to have it by February.
The government has previously predicted the NHS could lose up to 73,000 staff following the jab deadline and, in an assessment published in December, warned patient care could be impacted.
Currently around 6 per cent of healthcare workers are yet to be vaccinated and senior NHS sources speaking with The Independent have said it is unlikely this will change before the deadline.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Royal College of Midwives (RCM) on Wednesday called for the government to “immediately delay” it’s deadline as it risks worsening the major staffing crisis already facing the NHS.
In a statement Pat Cullen, general secretary and chief executive of the RCN, said: “Nothing matters more to a nurse than caring for their patients safely. Right now, our members are telling me they can’t always do that.
“We are calling on the government to recognise this risk and delay a move which by its own calculations looks to backfire. To dismiss valued nursing staff during this crisis would be an act of self-sabotage.
“Encouraging people to get vaccinated is the best way to boost vaccine take-up. Nursing staff, who are well-placed to understand people’s concerns and are highly trusted by them, have led the Covid-19 vaccination programme and have a key role to play in addressing any concerns people may have about being vaccinated.”
Gill Walton, chief executive of the RCM, said the college believes vaccination is the “right thing to do”, however it does not believe mandatory vaccinations are the correct approach.
She said: “I appeal to the health secretary to reconsider his decision and to delay the implementation. Throughout the pandemic, maternity staff have fought to keep services open and to provide the best care to women and families.
“It has been unrelenting and so it’s no surprise that staff absence is currently at its highest in the pandemic so far. Moving forward with mandatory vaccination could only see staffing levels fall further.
“The government has opened a Pandora’s Box of unforeseen consequences – but there is an opportunity now to close it. We are urging Sajid Javid to do just that.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Health and social care workers are responsible for looking after some of the most vulnerable people in society, many of whom are more likely to suffer serious health consequences if exposed to the virus.
“This is about patient safety, and ensuring people in hospital or care have as much protection as possible. Vaccinations remain our best defence against Covid.”
Danny Mortimer, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS hospitals, said: “NHS leaders support the requirement that staff who are in regular contact with patients be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Both the risks and consequences of a mandatory approach were highlighted by leaders at the time of consultation, and they would have preferred to have had longer to meet these requirements.”
He said as the deadline approaches some staff will have to leave their roles if they continue to decline vaccination, which will reduce frontline NHS staff numbers and “lead to more gaps in capacity at a time of intense pressure and patient demand”.
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