NHS mandatory vaccination to be ditched as Tories U-turn to avoid even deeper NHS crisis

Ministers have announced plans to scrap the order forcing all NHS staff in England to get vaccinated against Covid. Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed the move in a statement to MPs on 31 January, just three days before the deadline for unvaccinated staff who have face-to-face contact with patients to get their first dose or be dismissed. Before the announcement, Naomi Byron, Unison rep and member of Unison’s National Executive Council (personal capacity), spoke to the Socialist:

photo Paul Mattsson

photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

A House of Lords committee has estimated that 126,000 staff could leave the NHS, or be dismissed, because of the introduction of mandatory vaccinations. They also estimated that it would cost £270 million to recruit and train replacements for those staff.

The NHS is already chronically understaffed with around 100,000 vacancies; these levels of understaffing are affecting patient care and causing chronic exhaustion among many NHS staff. A Unison survey at the end of last year said that two-thirds of staff who responded were thinking about leaving the NHS. The top reason they gave was the effect that their work was having on their mental health.

In October, there were six million people, almost one in ten of the population, on waiting lists in England, and it keeps increasing.

In the care sector, where mandatory vaccination was introduced in the autumn, the Care Quality Commission is warning of a serious and deteriorating situation around staff recruitment and retention.

The vacancy rate in the care sector went up from 6% in April, to 11.5% at the end of December. It nearly doubled in the period when mandatory vaccination was introduced.

The government argues that this measure is about protecting public health. But we can’t believe that the Tory government has public health at heart.

At the same time as they are planning to sack thousands of health workers, they are also passing the Health and Care Bill through parliament, which aims to entrench privatisation and continue the break-up of the NHS, including the potential of the break up of national pay bargaining.

The threat of dismissing staff if they don’t get vaccinated is counter-productive. I believe that more people would take the vaccine if we continued the positive education programme about the benefits of the vaccine. By attacking a minority of NHS staff, around 90% of whom are already vaccinated, the government is seeking to blame workers for the NHS crisis, caused by years of government cuts and privatisation.