No10 is poised to announce a U-turn on compulsory Covid vaccines for NHS workers today in a move described as ‘long overdue’ by a medical union.
A two-jab vaccine mandate was supposed to come into force in the health service on April 1, which would have given the remaining 80,000 unvaccinated frontline NHS staff until Thursday to get their first dose.
But Health Secretary Sajid Javid will reportedly confirm the controversial move is being scrapped later this afternoon, after meeting with ministers on the Covid Operations Cabinet (Covid-O) committee.
The Royal College of Nursing hailed the move as coming ‘just in time’, with the jobs of around one in 20 frontline NHS employees hanging in the balance.
But care bosses said the U-turn was a ‘slap in the face’ to tens of thousands of care home staff who lost their job over a similar vaccine mandate which came into force last November.
On Friday, those without jabs would have faced dismissal warnings and been asked to work out their notice periods until March 31.
Patricia Marquis, the RCN’s director, claimed the policy made ‘no sense’ and could have actually ‘puts patients at more risk’.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The vaccination is the right policy but forcing vaccination wasn’t, not in the middle of a staffing crisis particularly.’
However, the chair of the National Care Association, Nadra Ahmed, said she was ‘frustrated’ and ‘saddened’ for all the care staff that had ‘needlessly’ lost their jobs.
Boris Johnson appeared to confirm the reports of a change to the NHS jab mandate today during a visit to the Port of Tilbury in Essex.
He told reporters: ‘I think that Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, is saying a bit more later on about how you might deal with different variants of coronavirus because they have different implications when it comes to transmission.’
Health Secretary Sajid Javid (pictured this morning outside the Cabinet Office) is said to be meeting with ministers on the Covid Operations Cabinet (Covid-O) committee later today to finalise scrapping the controversial move
But now, ministers are set to scrap the plan after one in 20 NHS staff – the equivalent of 77,591 people – have still not had their first jab. In London, one in ten staff are unvaccinated
Boris Johnson appeared to confirm reports of a change to the NHS jab mandate today during a visit to the Port of Tilbury in Essex
Patricia Marquis, the RCN’s director (pictured), claimed the policy made ‘no sense’ and could have actually ‘puts patients at more risk’.
A senior Government source told The Telegraph that the U-turn was made possible because of Omicron — which is much milder than older variants and makes two jabs significantly weaker at stopping transmission.
The RCN, Royal College of GPs and the Royal College of Midwives previously called on the Government to extend the deadline to prevent a mass exodus in the NHS.
But asked whether she would support scrapping the compulsory vaccination policy entirely, Ms Marquis said the RCN ‘absolutely would’.
Unjabbed midwife feared losing her job over compulsory Covid vaccines for the NHS
Erika Thompson (pictured), a unjabbed midwife from Hampshire
An unvaccinated midwife feared she could lose her job due to a heart condition that made her nervous about getting the jab.
Erika Thompson, from Hampshire, works at her local NHS unit when they need extra staff.
But from April 1 she would not have been able to return to her post, if Covid jabs become compulsory in the health service.
Ms Thompson has already had Covid and tested positive for antibodies.
But she has decided not to get the jabs because she suffers from heart inflammation, saying she felt it was not worth the risk.
Ms Thompson told the BBC: ‘I don’t want to not be a midwife anymore. I feel like it’s part of who I am.
‘But I also feel strongly that a mandate is not the way forward, and that it’s infringing on our human rights to make these decisions.’
Asked if she felt Covid posed a risk to her, the midwife said: ‘Absolutely, yes
‘I have had Covid and I have got natural immunity, and I think we need to ask the question why are we not considering natural immunity in this equation.’
Heart inflammation — or myocarditis — is a vanishingly rare side effect of the mRNA vaccines, or those made by Pfizer and Moderna.
About three cases per million doses administered are recorded, with the side effect more common among men.
Charities say people with a previous history of heart inflammation should still get the vaccine.
The British Heart Foundation says: ‘There is currently no evidence that people with a history of myocarditis or pericarditis are at increased risk of developing (the conditions again) following the Covid vaccine.
‘If in doubt, ask your helath professional for advice.’
She told BBC Radio 4: ‘We’ve been calling for it for some time now saying that mandating these vaccines is not the way to go about getting people to have the vaccination.
‘So, we absolutely would support the scrapping of the regulations.’
She said dumping mandate would come ‘just in time to stop the mass exodus [of staff] that we would have seen had the policy gone forward’.
‘The most important issue for us right now is the fact that there are so many nursing vacancies already,’ Ms Marquis added.
‘It makes no sense to risk losing thousands of registered nurses and health care support workers from both health, and also what’s been lost from social care, which actually puts patients at more risk than not having nurses at all.’
The NHS currently has around 100,000 vacancies, including 40,000 nurse and 9,000 doctor positions remaining unfilled.
This is equivalent to about seven per cent of the workforce, and will only get worse should all employees be required to get vaccinated.
Reports are already emerging of NHS staff leaving the health service in England, and signing up again in Scotland and Wales where jabs are not compulsory.
Ms Marquis warned that, without action, most unvaccinated staff will face the prospect of being given redundancy notices this week.
She said: ‘The vaccination is the right policy but forcing vaccination wasn’t, not in the middle of a staffing crisis particularly.’
She added that scrapping the mandate will mean ‘many, many nurses who were set to lose their jobs over the next few months will be able to stay in their jobs and continue to deliver patient care as safely as possible, given the lack of staff we already have’.
Ms Marquis urged all NHS staff to get vaccinated because Covid is still a ‘serious disease’, but said they did not support making the jabs compulsory.
‘We would say that Covid is still a serious disease and would absolutely urge all nursing staff to get vaccinated,’ she said.
‘But the situation has changed in that Omicron is serious for those who are unvaccinated but actually overall as a country things have improved.’
Scrapping the Covid vaccine mandate for the NHS will only rub salt in the wound for the care sector, where all staff had to be inoculated from November.
Care bosses railed against the move at the time, saying they were already in the middle of a staffing crisis — also with more than 100,000 vacancies — and that it would put vulnerable residents at risk.
But their calls fell on deaf ears among ministers, who instead unveiled a similar policy for the NHS.
Around 40,000 employees in the sector have already lost their jobs because they were not vaccinated, it is estimated.
If the policy is reversed it is not clear how many would return, with some already thought to have taken up jobs in Scotland and Wales where jabs are not compulsory.
Ms Ahmed said she was ‘saddened for all the people who may have needlessly’ lost their jobs after being told the compulsory jabs policy could now be lifted.
She told BBC Breakfast that the impact on the sector had been ‘devastating’ and left social care ‘on its knees’.
‘The people who we’ve lost, we hope they’ll think about coming back and we will do everything we can to try and encourage them to come back.
Billions of PPE items worth £2.7billion ordered to help NHS in Covid fight will be binned, minister says
Nearly five billion items of NHS personal protective equipment worth £2.7billion will go to waste, a minister has admitted.
Health minister Edward Argar revealed more than 36.4 billion items were ordered by the Government’s PPE programme since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
He said: ‘Of this, approximately 3.4billion units are currently identified as potential excess stock. The estimated price for those items is £2.2billion.’
Of the 36.4 billion items ordered, 6.96 billion of them ‘are not currently provided to frontline services’, he said.
‘Of these, 1.2 billion items are deemed to be not fit for use. The purchase price for these items was £458million.’
Mr Argar was replying to a question from Liberal Democrats chief whip and MP for North East Fife Wendy Chamberlain regarding PPE wastage.
The Liberal Democrats labelled the Government’s use of public funds as ‘extreme negligence on an industrial scale’.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told The Guardian there were ‘a range of measures’ for surplus PPE, such as selling and recycling, as well as ‘plans to extend shelf life where appropriate’.
‘But they will have found other roles and they may be happier in their other roles now and not want to move again.’
She added, however, that they were ‘really happy’ to hear that the policy could be scrapped before it comes into force in the NHS.
The director of the National Association of Care and Support Workers, Mark Topps, said it was ‘disgraceful’ that care homes had been forced to spend time and money on disciplinary proceedings and redundancies potentially for no reason.
He said: ‘We have lost people with years of experience and skills that we won’t ever get back and it is highly unlikely these staff members will want to come back into the social care sector after the way they have been treated by Government.’
The chair of the Independent Care Group which represents homes in Yorkshire, Mike Padgham, said the potential U-turn illustrated the ‘huge gap’ between how the NHS and the care sector are treated.
He said: ‘We were robbed of thousands of staff back in November when the policy came in for care and nursing home workers and nobody lifted a finger.
‘But when a similar threat is levelled toward NHS staff, the policy is reversed.
‘It is another in a long history of slaps in the face for social care, which, given the services it provides, should have the same respect as NHS care.’
The Prime Minister appeared to confirm reports that the NHS vaccine mandate could be dropped today.
On a visit to a factory at Port of Tilbury, Essex, he said it was ‘absolutely clear’ that everyone should get the vaccine.
But added that the Health Secretary would likely make an announcement later today on the mandate.
The chief secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke also did not rule out the U-turn during a round of media interviews this morning.
Asked about the move on BBC Breakfast, he said: ‘Again, that would be for the Health Secretary to determine — I wouldn’t pre-empt any announcement that he might make.
‘Obviously, again, as with the frontline NHS, the decision was taken that people who are working with the oldest people, some of the most vulnerable in our society, should be vaccinated.
‘There were good reasons for that — there are good reasons why you would want people who are dealing with very vulnerable people to have got protection for both themselves and those they are looking after.
‘Whether the shift to Omicron from Delta allows a change of policy in that space is something which, as I say, would be for health ministers to lead on.’
MPs gave the green-light to mandatory Covid vaccines for NHS staff in December, after voting through the move.
But since then reams of evidence has emerged suggesting Omicron is far milder than older variants.
A senior government source told the Telegraph that ministers are U-turning on the mandatory jabs policy because Omicron is much less dangerous.
‘Omicron has changed things,’ the source said. ‘When we first introduced the policy, it was delta that was the dominant variant. That was very high risk in terms of how severe it was.
‘For omicron, while it is more transmissible, all the studies have shown it is less severe. That has changed the conversation about whether mandatory jabs are still proportionate.’
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: ‘There were always two risks to manage here: the risk of Covid cross-infection in healthcare settings and the consequences of losing staff if significant numbers choose not to be vaccinated.’
Prior to the reported U-turn, NHS managers had been advised they could move unvaccinated medics from the frontline into roles which do not involve direct patient contact.
Bosses wouldn’t have to help staff find ‘suitable alternative employment’ and redundancy payments would not be made to those who are dismissed.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) health watchdog has said it will not take action against hospitals which decide it is safer to keep unvaccinated staff in place.
Last week Mr Javid said the policy was ‘under review’ and he did not want to lose a single worker to the mandate.
He hinted it may be scrapped because Omicron was less severe than Delta, meaning unjabbed workers posed less of a threat to patients.
Meanwhile, NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard told a board meeting on Thursday that the compulsory jabs policy posed ‘a real element of risk’ to services.
She said that aiming for universal uptake was ‘of course the right’ objective, but added: ‘At the same time, there is a real element of risk in this that local teams are facing and there’s a risk for our national level targets including the expansion of the workforce, particularly in nursing.’