The chair of BMA’s Northern Ireland Council, Tom Black, was speaking after Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann launched a public consultation last week around introducing mandatory Covid-19 vaccines in NI. The compulsory scheme could involve all new recruits to health and social care and anyone who moves job within the health system. The day after, English Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced the decision to make vaccines compulsory for NHS staff in England from next April. No political party in NI has publicly backed compulsory jabs.
Asked to explain why NI health care workers should not be subject to the same approach as in England, Dr Black said a pragmatic balance has to be struck due to winter staffing pressures.
“The majority of Doctors in Northern Ireland are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and have taken the flu jab,” he said.
“It is a sensible ask for HSC [Health and Social Care] workers to be vaccinated against Covid-19 – along with adopting other mitigating measures such as wearing adequate PPE, following hygiene protocols and social distancing where possible - if only to reassure patients that the staff caring for them will not pass on a serious infection during a pandemic period.”
However he said that given the current staffing crisis in the health service as we the very busy winter months, it would be “unwise at this time” to make vaccinations mandatory. “Even if only a small number of staff were forced out of work because they are not vaccinated, it would still have a massive impact on our health service that is under constant pressure across secondary and primary care. It is vital that we understand why those who are eligible to take the vaccine are unwilling to do so and address that hesitancy first.”
Rita Devlin, Director of the RCN in Northern Ireland took a similar stance.
“The majority of nursing staff received the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it was offered,” she told the News Letter. “Nursing staff have led the vaccination roll out across the UK and continue to do so with the booster programme. Employers must continue to engage with the small minority who have chosen not to have the vaccine.
“This is vital to understanding their concerns, supporting them to understand the importance of the vaccine and to make that important choice. The Health Minister has announced plans to consult on this issue and the RCN will encourage members to participate when the consultation is launched.”
PUP Deputy Leader and recently retired GP Dr John Kyle noted that some compulsory vaccinations are already in place for doctors.
“For several decades there has been mandatory immunisation against Hepatitis B for all doctors working with patients where there is a possibility of them passing that on to patients,” he said. “That is well established.
“I am not aware of any clear scientific reasons why you shouldn’t get vaccinated for the vast majority of people. And therefore people choose not to get vaccinated for what appears to be ideological reasons or an emotional decision.
“But in terms of the greater good argument we are already short of staff in the NHS and if that measure was to result in even a 5-10% loss of staff then I think that would have serious consequences for patient care.”
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