Compulsory vaccination may drive out 73,000 NHS staff

The government’s impact statement on its compulsory vaccination policy admits that it could put pressure on NHS services

11th November 2021 about a 3 minute read
“We understand why people are vaccine-hesitant. We need to win the argument with them rather than beat them around the head.” Chris Hopson, chief executive, NHS Providers

The government has estimated that 73,000 NHS staff will refuse the compulsory Covid-19 vaccine and therefore have to leave their jobs.

The estimate was provided in an impact statement published earlier this week. It also estimated that 38,000 staff in the social care sector were likely to remain unvaccinated. A further 15,000 employees in the private health care sector are likely to refuse the vaccine, the document said.

On Tuesday, the health and social care secretary Sajid Javid announced that all NHS England staff who have contact with patients (including non-clinical staff such as porters and cleaners) will need to receive two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine by 1 April 2022. While the government will allow exemptions for staff for whom the vaccination is “not clinically appropriate”, staff will not be able to refuse the vaccine on religious grounds.

The impact statement said there was “significant uncertainty around the change in staff’s willingness to be vaccinated as a result of this policy’s introduction.”

The compulsory vaccination policy affects 1.813 million staff across both the NHS and private health care providers. Of these, 1.68 million are already vaccinated. Under the assumptions made by the document, 27,000 will be vaccinated following the introduction of this policy, 36,000 will be exempt, and 88,000 will remain unvaccinated.

Social care already faces serious recruitment challenges

The benefits of the compulsory vaccination policy include a reduction in infections and fatalities amongst health and care workers, a reduction in sickness absences, and reduced hospitalisation costs as a result of averting serious infection, the document says. It also notes that the “wider economic and societal impacts” are “expected to yield large benefits.”

There has been some concern about the impact on the NHS of losing thousands of staff, as there are already 90,000 vacancies in the NHS in England. 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 NHS is already reliant on staff working extra shifts, he said.

The impact statement itself acknowledges the risks attached to the policy. “If a proportion of staff decides to leave the NHS, this would put pressure on NHS services,” it says. In social care, the policy  “presents a significant workforce capacity risk.” It notes that this is a “sector that is already facing serious recruitment challenges owing to high competition for labour as the economy re-opens, with competing sectors such as retail, logistics and hospitality offering higher wages and better conditions, as well as high levels of vacancies (now higher than pre-pandemic).”