More than 120,000 frontline health and social care staff in England could lose their jobs next spring after refusing to have Covid-19 vaccinations, according to Government estimates.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced that frontline NHS workers and social care staff in England will need to be jabbed to continue in their jobs from April 1 next year, unless they are exempt.
But the Government has conceded that the policy could have a “significant impact” on the health and care workforce, with estimates suggesting that as many as 123,000 could leave their jobs as a result.
An impact report estimates that by the end of the grace period around 88,000 health workers, including 73,000 NHS staff, and 35,000 social care workers will remain unvaccinated.
It warns that any reduction in the workforce “may lead to reduced or delayed services”, with the NHS already facing a record backlog of care and grappling with high vacancy rates.
Estimates included in the document suggest that around 54,000 unvaccinated staff will take up the offer of a jab as a result of the policy.
In a Commons statement, Mr Javid said there was no doubt that health and social care staff “carry a unique responsibility” in the work they do and “we must avoid preventable harm”.
He said only those who do not have face-to-face contact with patients or who are medically exempt will not be required to have two doses of a Covid jab, with enforcement of the rule from April 1 next year.
The decision applies to health and wider social care settings that are regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
The Department of Health and Social Care said the regulations cover health and social care workers who have direct, face-to-face contact with people while providing care, such as doctors, nurses, dentists and domiciliary care workers.
They will also apply to ancillary staff such as porters or receptionists who may have social contact with patients but are not directly involved in their care.
Care home workers in England have already been told they must be fully vaccinated by the deadline of this Thursday.
Mr Javid told MPs the decision to make Covid-19 vaccinations compulsory for NHS staff does not mean the Government does not recognise concerns about “workforce pressures” this winter.
He added: “Allow me to be clear that no-one in the NHS or care that is currently unvaccinated should be scapegoated, singled out or shamed.
“That would be totally unacceptable. This is about supporting them to make a positive choice to protect vulnerable people, to protect their colleagues. And of course to protect themselves.”
More than 100,000 people working in the NHS in England remain unvaccinated, the Cabinet member also told MPs.
“The take-up throughout the NHS in England is 93% of the first dose, 90% of two doses, and that does leave – the latest number I have – 103,000 people in the NHS, that work for the NHS, that are unvaccinated, so not even one jab.
“It’s hard to know what portion of that number will take up the offer of vaccination.
“If we look at what has happened with social care – care homes – since that policy was announced, there was a significant fall in the equivalent number and I think we can certainly expect that here.”
According to the Department of Health, 105,000 domiciliary care workers have not been reported as fully vaccinated.
Overall, some 92.8% of NHS workers have had their first dose and 89.9% have had both doses, while, in social care, 83.7% of domiciliary care workers have had their first dose and 74.6% have had both doses.
Mr Javid said the decision to make jabs mandatory for care home staff meant that the number of people working in care homes who have not had at least one dose had fallen from 88,000 to 32,000 at the start of last month.
Of the consultation regarding making vaccines mandatory for NHS staff, he added: “I’ve carefully considered the responses and the evidence and I’ve concluded that the scales clearly tip to one side.
“The weight of the data shows our vaccinations have kept people safe and they have saved lives.”
He added that flu jabs will not be compulsory, although the issue is being kept under review.
The Government impact report also estimates that the “cost of replacing unvaccinated workers is £270 million”.
Royal College of Nursing chief executive Pat Cullen said: “The vast majority of NHS nursing staff received the Covid-19 vaccine as soon as it was offered, having led the vaccination rollout across the UK and continuing to do so with the booster programme.
“With the five months until this decision takes effect, the Government and employers must continue to engage with the small minority who have chosen not to have the vaccine.”
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard 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.”
Unvaccinated frontline health and social care staff will need to have their first vaccine within the next 12 weeks in order to get their second jab before the April 1 deadline.
On Tuesday officials in Northern Ireland announced that plans for a public consultation on mandatory Covid-19 and flu vaccination for new recruits to the health and social care workforce in the country.
But the Welsh and Scottish governments are not planning to introduce mandated vaccines for health and social care staff.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Health Minister Eluned Morgan said: “In Wales 95% of our healthcare workers have taken the opportunity to have both doses of the vaccine and we think that those levels are very high.
“We are content with those levels.
“We are still in the business of trying to persuade those final 5%, but there will be among them some people who have medical reasons why they can’t have those two doses.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “There are currently no plans to introduce mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations for NHS and care staff in Scotland.
“Uptake rates are incredibly high amongst NHS and care staff in Scotland and we are deeply grateful for their efforts during the pandemic.”
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