Eleventh hour policy change on mandatory vaccination will cause frustration

Matthew Taylor and Chris Hopson comment on the government's approach to mandatory vaccination.

31 January 2022

In a joint statement on the Government‘s change of approach to mandatory vaccination, the chief executives of NHS Confederation and NHS Providers, Matthew Taylor and Chris Hopson, said:

“We have always been clear that encouraging as many NHS staff as possible to get vaccinated was the right approach for staff, their colleagues and, most importantly, for patients. The evidence is clear that vaccines are highly effective against infection, transmission, hospitalisation and mortality.

“The majority of our trust, primary care and ICS leader members supported the introduction of the mandate, but they would have preferred longer to have implemented the policy, particularly given the intensity of winter and the recent Omicron surge. They were also mindful and transparent about the risk of losing key staff who might remain hesitant about vaccination should Government opt to take this route.

“It has always been a Government decision on whether to mandate the vaccine for NHS staff and, if so, when to set the deadline. The Government set a deadline for 1 April, which meant staff needed to have had their first jab by 3 February.

“Our members have been working flat out to encourage hesitant staff to come forward for vaccination. They have made significant progress in recent weeks, but we are facing a situation where 60,000 or more NHS staff may need to be re-deployed or dismissed, raising safety risks for certain services in some parts of the country and with a disproportionate impact on staff and communities from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.

“The Government has now decided to reverse the policy and no longer mandate Covid vaccination as a condition of employment in the NHS. This has followed increasing speculation of a change in policy in recent days. Despite this speculation, NHS leaders and their teams have continued to do all they can to encourage hesitant staff to get the vaccine. We still believe that it is the right thing for as many NHS staff as possible to become vaccinated and our members will continue to encourage individuals to do so, regardless of the change in Government policy on mandation.

“NHS leaders are frustrated to have such a significant change in policy at the 11th hour given all the hard and complex work that has gone into meeting the deadline set by the government. They recognise the reasons the Government has given for the changes – the risk to services and the different risk from omicron compared to previous variants. But there will be concern at what this means for wider messaging about the importance of vaccination for the population as a whole. We must also be mindful of the frustration this late change will have caused for some staff and the government must ensure clear guidance is quickly made available to support managers to implement this change in approach.

“Finally, we are also conscious of the impact this will have on our colleagues working in social care. A large number of staff left their roles when mandatory vaccination became law in the social care sector last autumn. This U-turn will therefore cause similar frustration in social care given the disruption to service delivery that resulted from loss of staff last November.”