By Joseph Lee & Marie Jackson
It will become compulsory for frontline NHS staff in England to be fully vaccinated against Covid, the health secretary has confirmed.
Sajid Javid told MPs that he expected to set a deadline for the beginning of April to give 103,000 unvaccinated workers time to get both jabs.
He said the move would help protect patients and the NHS as a whole.
But concerns have been raised that it could lead some workers to leave, adding to healthcare staffing issues.
More than 93% of NHS frontline staff have had their first dose and 90% are fully vaccinated, Javid said. That is higher than the general working-age population, where about 81% have had both doses.
The government’s decision follows a consultation which considered whether both the Covid and flu jabs should be compulsory.
Mr Javid said the flu vaccine would not be made mandatory.
Those with a medical reason not to have the Covid jab would be exempt, he said, as would those who do not have face-to-face contact with patients.
In a Commons statement, Mr Javid said compulsory vaccination would “protect patients in the NHS, protect colleagues in the NHS and, of course, protect the NHS itself”.
He said the requirement would be enforced 12 weeks after parliamentary approval – likely to be from April.
No unvaccinated worker should be “scapegoated or shamed”, said Mr Javid, and should instead be supported to make “a positive choice”.
Each of the four UK nations makes its own decisions on the issue.
Scotland and Wales have not made any proposals to make Covid jabs compulsory for NHS workers or care home staff, while in Northern Ireland there is to be a public consultation.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers which represents England’s NHS trusts, said: “We understand why people are vaccine-hesitant. We need to win the argument with them rather than beat them around the head.”
The possibility of losing staff was a “real problem” as the NHS runs on fine margins and already relies on staff to work extra shifts, he added.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth urged Mr Javid to proceed with caution – pointing to waiting lists “close to six million” and more than 90,000 job vacancies across the NHS.
There will be anxiety that chronic understaffing problems could be exacerbated, he said. “We simply cannot afford to lose thousands of NHS staff overnight.”
Unison head of health Sara Gorton said she feared the move might knock staff morale further and prompt workers to leave – or lose their job.
The government should consider alternatives like daily testing, she said, and not risk making the same mistake made with mandatory jabs in social care – which she said had led to an unprecedented staffing crisis.
From Thursday, care homes will be required to refuse entry to workers who have not been fully vaccinated, unless they have a medical exemption or there is an emergency.
Mr Javid said that since announcing the requirement for care staff, the number of unvaccinated workers in the sector has fallen from 88,000 to 32,000 in the last month.
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