Reports are emerging that many health service workers in England are refusing the vaccine, as the numbers coming forward to receive a Covid jab have fallen significantly over the past couple of weeks. But despite (or, perhaps, because of) an ongoing Government consultation into making Covid vaccinations mandatory for care staff (which would likely extend into other health-related fields), opposition to coercing staff in this manner appears to be growing. The Guardian has the story.
Nearly 15% of health service workers in England remain unvaccinated, and the numbers coming forward for a jab have decreased sharply in the last two weeks, NHS figures have revealed, prompting concerns that many frontline staff are refusing the vaccine.
But health leaders, patients’ groups and unions have been quick to dismiss any suggestion of mandatory vaccinations after it emerged that Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, had embarked on a plan before the pandemic to make flu vaccinations compulsory for NHS staff.
The latest figures show that only 6,259 NHS staff in England had their first dose in the seven days before April 11th, down from 11,483 the previous week and substantially lower than the average of 22,985 per week during March. Now 190,697 workers out of 1,378,502 directly employed by the NHS remain unprotected against the coronavirus, four months after they became eligible for vaccination. The figures do not include agency workers, and will include some under-45s who are not frontline staff and are still waiting their turn.
Some NHS trusts would like to introduce mandatory vaccination because they believe efforts to persuade remaining staff are a distraction from other important tasks such as tackling the enormous waiting lists that have grown during the lockdowns.
Lesley Watts, the Chief Executive of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Foundation Trust, wrote to other NHS trusts with a draft letter to staff saying Covid vaccination would be mandatory. After the letter was leaked, Watts said there was “no intention to mandate vaccination of our staff”, but did not explain why the letter was written or distributed.
Hancock was a strident critic of anti-vaxxer movements before the pandemic, and told a fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference in 2019 that he favoured making vaccinations compulsory for all childhood diseases. He then asked civil servants at the Department of Health and Social Care to work out how to make flu vaccines mandatory for NHS staff. The DHSC did not say if the proposal was still being considered.
In perhaps the biggest intervention on the question of mandatory vaccination for health service workers yet, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) – which has a membership of 450,000 registered nurses – said in a statement released on Friday that health and social care staff should not be “coerced” into having a Covid vaccine.
Like the wider population, health and care staff are a diverse group and there are both physical and societal barriers for some on the take up for the vaccine.
The RCN do not support staff being made or coerced into having the vaccine. Staff vaccination should not be used as part of staff contracts, it should not be a condition of employment or part of employment contracts, linked to terms and conditions of employment or to pay.
The RCN do not believe that this approach is effective in improving uptake of vaccination in staff. The RCN recommend that all organisations have a proactive approach and make sure their staff have easy access to the vaccine within the working day. Staff should also have access to support with the right information, encouragement and clear explanation of the benefit and value of the vaccine. These measures will help to achieve a high vaccine uptake.
The Guardian’s report is worth reading in full.