Current government rules state that NHS England staff must have a first jab by 3 February and be fully vaccinated by 1 April 2022 to continue in frontline roles with the health secretary (Mr Javid) saying it is the professional duty of NHS staff to be vaccinated against covid.
It is estimated that 95% of staff at NHS trusts have been jabbed. However, this still leaves about 77,000 individuals who have not – some of which will be frontline staff.
This week has seen protests across the country from NHS workers who oppose the government policy and it is accepted, by Mr Javid, that “not everyone, ultimately, is going to come forward."
The Department for Health and Social Care say that there are no plans to delay the deadline and it was "the right thing to do to protect patients."
This is clearly a conflict that isn’t going away and an issue that will certainly polarise opinion.
Some people may argue that for decades the NHS has required healthcare workers to be vaccinated against hepatitis B—even going further and requiring proof of adequate antibody response—as well as measles, varicella, and tuberculosis. So why not covid?
It is widely accepted that having a vaccination can lower your risk of getting and spreading the virus that causes covid-19. They are also highly effective against severe illness. However, compulsory vaccination of all healthcare workers would not eliminate risk entirely.
For those that elect not to be vaccinated against covid, perhaps freedom of choice could be respected by moving the healthcare worker from the frontline (if such a move can be accommodated) until the effects of the pandemic are less severe. The problem with such a decision is that it could lead to an increased shortage of specialist staff in frontline services at a time when the NHS is already under incredible strain.
In any event, there is likely to be resentment from the tax payer if NHS frontline staff are treated differently to other individuals who elect not to be vaccinated. For example, some of the country’s biggest employers have cut sick pay for unvaccinated staff who are required to isolate. It is unclear whether the NHS will (or can) follow suit – creating an interesting debate as whether it should be the tax payer who should pay for the principles of the unvaccinated healthcare staff exercising a freedom of choice.
Hopefully a compromise can be reached between the two sides of this conflict, otherwise this writer fears that it will be patients that will suffer.
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