The government has confirmed it will make Covid-19 vaccines mandatory for frontline NHS staff from 1 April next year.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday, health secretary Sajid Javid said after considering thousands of responses to a consultation launched in the summer, “I have concluded that all those working in the NHS and social care will have to be vaccinated.”
He added: “We must avoid preventable harm and protect patients in the NHS, protect colleagues in the NHS and of course protect the NHS itself .”
All staff who have face-to-face contact with patients will have to provide evidence they are fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Those who do not have direct contact are exempt, as are those who have a medical reason to not have the jab.
More than 103,000 NHS staff, just over 10 per cent of the total workforce, are currently unvaccinated.
The government also consulted on making flu vaccines mandatory. Mr Javid has said these vaccines will not be imposed at the moment but said the government remains “open” to the option.
The health secretary said the decision to make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory for NHS staff does not mean the government does not recognise concerns about "workforce pressures’’ this winter.
He said: "It’s with this in mind that we’ve chosen for the condition not to come into force until 12 weeks after parliamentary approval, allowing time for remaining colleagues to make the positive choice to protect themselves of those around them, and time for workforce planning.’’
The head of the NHS, Amanda Pritchard, is expected to write to staff on Tuesday about the mandatory vaccinations.
In a statement she said: “The NHS has always been clear that staff should get the life-saving Covid vaccination to protect themselves, their loved ones and their patients and the overwhelming majority have already done so.
“Working with NHS organisations, we will continue to support staff who have not yet received the vaccination to take up the evergreen offer.”
NHS Providers boss Chris Hopson said on Tuesday morning that if mandatory vaccination for NHS staff was approached in the right way it could have a positive effect on vaccine uptake.
He argued that an extended deadline for getting vaccinated would mean that hospitals could discuss concerns with vaccine-hesitant staff to explain that "it is in their interests and their patients' interests to get vaccinated".
But he added that the NHS and the social care sector losing "significant numbers of staff" would be a "real problem".
"I suspect that come the deadline, whenever it is set, there will still be some staff who are adamant that they don't want to get vaccinated and that is a very significant risk for the NHS," he said.
He added: "The problem for both social care and the NHS is we run these systems incredibly hot on very, very fine margins. Both of us have got around 90 to 100,000 vacancies.
"We are completely reliant on our staff to... work extra shifts in order to do the work that needs to be done. So losing significant numbers of staff, particularly given the pressure that both of the systems are under at the moment, is a real, real problem.
"And that's why we're very clear with the government they need to help us manage this risk."
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