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Saturday, May 21, 2022

NHS England could employ unvaccinated staff after 1 April, says regulator

NHS England could employ unvaccinated staff after 1 April, says regulator

Frontline staff who have not had jab may be able to work if dangerous understaffing deemed a greater risk
Hospitals in England could continue to employ unvaccinated NHS healthcare workers beyond the April deadline if not doing so risks leaving them dangerously understaffed, the sector regulator has indicated.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) said it would implement the government diktat for mandatory jabs “fairly and proportionately”, amid fears that it will exacerbate the NHS’s existing staff crisis.

Its comments were welcomed by hospital trusts, comingbefore Thursday’s deadline for all NHS staff in England who have direct contact with patients to have their first dose of a Covid vaccine, in order to complete the course before 1 April, or risk losing their job. About 80,000 frontline NHS workers have still not had a first dose and the NHS already has 93,000 vacancies, including 40,000 for nurses.

Ted Baker, CQC’s chief inspector of hospitals, said: “We will work with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to ensure that this government legislation is implemented fairly and proportionately when it comes into effect.

“New regulations requiring registered healthcare providers to only deploy fully vaccinated staff in patient-facing roles do not supersede other regulatory requirements and hospital trusts may need to make difficult risk-based decisions in order to determine the safest possible approach in different circumstances.”

In comments to the Sunday Times, expanding on the CQC’s approach, Baker said: “We fully recognise there are concerns that the introduction of mandatory vaccination rules risks exacerbating existing staff shortages.”

Unions, including the Royal College of Nursing and the TUC, have called for mandatory jabs to be delayed, or even scrapped, voicing fears about the impact it will have on staffing levels. The government’s own impact assessment of its policy concluded that as many as 73,000 staff may leave rather than get jabbed, with women, people from ethnic minorities and younger workers among those most likely to quit or be forced out. There have also been demands by Tory backbenchers for the policy to be dropped.

There was a mixed reaction to the CQC’s comments. NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts, welcomed them as reflecting its own concerns.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “NHS Providers has consistently flagged that 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 refused to be vaccinated. The CQC is clearly also seeking to act proportionately in balancing these risks as it carries out its role.

“Trusts are working hard to increase the number of vaccinated staff and the numbers are rising with growing speed as we approach the deadline for the first vaccination to be completed.

“But we know there may be some services at risk if trusts need to redeploy or dismiss all unvaccinated staff when the April deadline is reached, as the current government regulations would require them to do. We still don’t know how serious or widespread this risk will be, but it is one that NHS leaders will clearly need to manage.”

But the UK’s largest health union, Unison, warned that the CQC’s comments only muddied the waters and suggested that the policy was unworkable.

Sara Gorton, Unison’s head of health, said: “This suggests a confusing element of discretion will now apply over what’s already distracting and unnecessary legislation. Allowing the rules to be set aside in certain cases creates a risk of unfair and potentially discriminatory treatment. If the CQC thinks the mandatory approach is incompatible with safe staffing, then the new law should simply be scrapped.”

A DHSC spokesperson said: “Health and social care workers look after the most vulnerable people in society and ensuring staff are vaccinated is the right thing to do to protect patients and those in care. We continue to work closely with trusts to encourage uptake of the vaccine – the vast majority of NHS staff have had the vaccine which is our best defence against Covid-19. As we have done throughout the pandemic, we keep all Covid-19 policies under review.”

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