NHS staff in England have said they fear colleagues “will simply leave” over the announcement that Covid-19 vaccines will be made mandatory for frontline health and social care workers.
The comments come after Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced the plans, which come into effect from April 1 next year, in a Commons statement on Wednesday.
A nurse from Yorkshire, who wished to remain anonymous, said she feared the impact the measures could have on care.
“We cannot afford for NHS staff to be reprimanded or taken off the frontline for not having a mandatory vaccine in the middle of a national crisis and during the winter period,” the 38-year-old told the PA news agency.
“I would encourage all staff to have the vaccines but do not agree that it should be compulsory… staff will simply leave and we cannot take that risk.”
According to statistics from Mr Javid, 93% of NHS staff in England have had a first vaccine dose, but 103,000 workers have not yet had a single jab.
A doctor from London, who also wished to remain anonymous, said the announcement could lead to staff “not taking up shifts, even if they’re not actually quitting”.
The doctor, in his 30s, expressed particular concern that agency staff would be affected by the policy, saying: “They already have quite tenuous requirements and experience in order to do the job anyway… I think if there was another hurdle that required vaccination, I suspect many of them wouldn’t take up the shifts.”
“We as doctors… have the idea of consent for any medical procedure, any medication, it is the underpinning arch to everything we do.
“It is therefore odd we’re in a situation where we’re having something that we cannot consent or say no to, and a mitigation of our normal healthcare rights.”
The doctor added that focusing on mandatory vaccines, rather than issues such as sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE), was an attempt to “pretend you’re back to normal”.
A union representative at an NHS hospital trust in Sheffield also raised concern, saying: “I want to see all staff having the vaccine if they are able, but the prospect of colleagues losing their jobs and livelihoods as a result of refusing it is alarming.
“Vaccine uptake among NHS staff is much higher than among the general workforce and yet, along with care workers, we are being singled out for a vaccine mandate at a time when we already face significant staff shortages.
“This from the same Government that has consistently refused to continue with measures that effectively reduce the transmission of Covid across society, like mask-wearing in public places.”
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