Government set for U-turn on mandatory vaccines for NHS and care staff

Sajid Javid and seniors ministers meet today to decide on requirement amid fears of staffing crisis

Adam Forrest
Monday 31 January 2022 09:46 GMT
Related video: Sajid Javid confirms end to Plan B Covid restrictions

Boris Johnson’s government is expected to announce a U-turn on mandatory Covid vaccinations for NHS and social care workers, according to reports.

Health secretary Sajid Javid has been facing pressure to scrap the requirement for health workers in England to be vaccinated by April amid fears it will lead to a major staffing crisis.

Mr Javid is set to meet ministers on the Covid-Operations Cabinet committee on Monday to confirm the U-turn, according to The Telegraph.

The government is said to be comfortable ending the policy because Omicron is milder than previous variants during the pandemic.

Asked about the U-turn on Monday, junior minister Simon Clarke said the variant being “less severe” than the Delta variant “opens a space where we can look at this again.”

Suggesting a change was on the way, he told Sky News: “What we know about Omicron is it is much more transmissible but less severe - any decision that is taken this week will reflect that reality.

Mr Clarke added: “I can’t pre-judge the decision that is going to be made but obviously we do recognise those realities.”

Nadra Ahmed, chairwoman of the National Care Association, told BBC Breakfast she was “frustrated” and “saddened for all the people who may have lost their jobs needlessly” owing to the introduction of mandatory vaccination – which may soon be scrapped by the government.

She said social care had lost “around 40,000” staff, which were the government’s own figures, adding that “the impact has been devastating … social care is on its knees”.

It comes after the Department of Health and Social Care said last Monday there were no plans to change the policy following a number of reports suggesting ministers were considering an 11th-hour delay.

However, the health secretary said on Tuesday that the policy is being “kept under review”.

He went on to say that plans for compulsory jabs were made when the Delta variant of the virus was the dominant strain in the UK, but now “almost all” cases are the Omicron variant which is “intrinsically less severe”.

Meanwhile, Conservative MPs welcomed the reports of a U-turn on Sunday with Andrew Rosindell tweeting that Mr Javid had made “the right decision”.

He said: “These free-thinking NHS workers’ jobs are saved and quite right too. Well done all those who had the courage to stand up for the values of a free society!”

Meanwhile, senior Tory MP Mark Harper , head of the Covid Research Group (CRG) of lockdown sceptics, called the reported decision a “huge win”.

He said: “It beggars belief that the PM and health secretary kept insisting on bulldozing this policy through, despite warnings of staff shortages, for so long.”

The policy would mean frontline staff in the NHS and registered social care settings must have their first vaccine doses by February 3 and they must be double jabbed before the policy kicks in on April 1.

There have been protests and calls for the policy to be delayed, amid fears that it could force thousands of frontline workers to leave their roles at a time when patient demand is high.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) called for a U-turn on mandatory vaccines for health workers urgently.

Patricia Marquis, RCN director for England told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We think the situation needs to be reviewed urgently and quick decisions need to be made before we start to lose people from the system.”

Meanwhile, the British Medical Association called for an “urgent impact assessment” on how the policy would affect staffing numbers.

Patricia Marquis, RCN director of England, said: “If these reports are correct, this climbdown by government is long overdue.

“Vaccination is hugely important but this was the wrong policy, especially as it added to the current pressure on NHS and care services.

“It was never in the interests of patient safety to threaten tens of thousands with dismissal in the middle of staffing crisis. We will continue to support government and employers to make the case for vaccination.”

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