Tens of thousands of health and social care staff in England remain unvaccinated ahead of a deadline next week for frontline workers to get their first jab, figures suggest.
Frontline staff in the NHS and registered social care settings, except care homes where the rules are already in place, must have their first vaccine doses by February 3 if they are to continue in their roles from April, unless they are exempt.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the Government is “reflecting” on next week’s deadline, following protests and calls for it to be delayed amid fears thousands of staff could be forced to leave their roles at a time of high demand.
New figures from NHS England show that 127,515 NHS and domiciliary care staff working in registered settings still have not had a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Mr Javid said he did not want to lose a single worker to the mandate, which he said is “under review”.
Pressed if the words “under review” mean that the Government is considering scrapping it, he said: “We’re reflecting on it because we do have to accept that the virus has changed.
“It’s moved from Delta to Omicron, and I’ve been very open about that reflection, but it is still absolutely right that people that are working in the NHS, working in social care, carry out their professional duty, which is to do all that they can to put patient safety first, and that means getting vaccinated.”
Around one in 20 staff (5.1%) at NHS trusts in England have still not had a first dose as of January 23 – the equivalent of 77,591 people, the latest figures show.
This is likely to include some people who currently do not hold frontline jobs.
At a regional level, the proportion of NHS staff who have not had a first dose varies from 3.3% in south-west England to 8.7% in London.
For social care staff working in registered domiciliary care settings, the figures show that around one in eight (12.3%) have not been recorded as having had a first dose.
This equates to 49,924 people.
In some local authorities, as many as three in 10 staff have still not had their first vaccine dose – including the London boroughs of Lewisham and Barking and Dagenham, and North Somerset.
Some frontline staff will be exempt from getting a jab, while vaccination status may not be known for some.
Two vaccine doses for care home staff in England have been mandatory as a condition of deployment since November.
The new policy affects frontline NHS and wider social care staff working in regulated settings in England, who must be double jabbed before the policy kicks in on April 1.
An impact assessment from the Department of Health and Social Care, published when the policy was announced in November, said the impact on workforce levels could be “significant”, and that any reduction in staffing levels may lead to reduced or delayed health and social care services.
Trusts are racing against time to get patient-facing staff vaccinated ahead of the new rules, according to analysis of 85 board papers of NHS trusts in England by the PA news agency.
In board papers published earlier this month, Barts Health Trust, in east London, said managers were “proceeding sensitively as they conduct one-to-one conversations with those staff yet to declare their vaccination status”.
Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust said every patient-facing staff member who had not taken up a vaccine had been contacted, while “regular communications and FAQ sessions are held to inform staff about the vaccine,” according to board papers from a meeting in November.
Many of the trusts have also expressed plans to look at “redeploying” patient-facing staff who have declined a Covid-19 vaccine so that they can keep their jobs.
Papers from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Trust in south London said: “Committee members expressed concern about the operational impact of the requirement for all frontline staff who work in health or social care settings to be fully vaccinated by April 2022.
“There was a clear need for fairness and equity in this area, including to ensure managers were supported to oversee the process of redeployment where possible.”
Unions have told PA they have been in talks nationally with trusts, offering guidance and support to help hospitals prepare and plan for the changes.
A spokesperson for GMB Union, of which at least 50,000 NHS workers are members, said that GMB reps are working with local trusts to ensure all members are represented and supported to ensure fairness and that redeployment is considered as a priority for all affected members.
Labour MP Rachael Maskell, who opposes mandatory vaccines for NHS staff, said: “The impact on the loss of staff to the NHS and care sector is catastrophic, and will not only build pressure on NHS waiting lists and escalate delayed discharges due to the lack of capacity in the care system, but add additional pressures to existing NHS staff.”
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