Mandatory jabs for NHS workers ‘could make NI staff crisis worse’

There are no plans to introduce mandatory vaccination for health staff in Northern Ireland, it has been confirmed.

Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 8:18 am

The Stormont health department said the move, which is currently being weighed up by UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid for NHS staff in England, could worsen the staffing crisis in the health service here.

Northern Ireland currently has a shortage of staff, with the nursing profession the worst impacted.

Vaccination is already a mandatory requirement for care home staff in England but not in Northern Ireland.

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The Stormont health department said the move, which is currently being weighed up by UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid for NHS staff in England, could worsen the staffing crisis in the health service here.

A spokesperson for the Stormont health department said that while Health and Social Care (HSC) staff are encouraged to take up the offer of vaccination against coronavirus, the “vulnerable staffing position” could be destabilised by a move to make it a mandatory requirement for employment.

On Monday, Mr Javid told Sky News: “There are around 100,000 [NHS staff] that are not [vaccinated] at this point. But what we saw with the care sector is that when we announced the policy ... we saw many more people come forward and do the right thing and get vaccinated. That’s what I hope, if we can do the same thing with the NHS, we will see.”

He added: “I’m leaning towards doing it.”

Mr Javid later echoed that view in an interview with BBC Radio Four, saying mandatory vaccination for NHS staff is the “direction of travel”.

The News Letter asked the Department of Health whether it is considering a similar move.

A spokesperson said: “The Department of Health continues to work with HSC employers to maximise uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine amongst health and social care staff.

“We encourage all staff who are not yet vaccinated to do so without delay. Vaccination is the most effective way of stopping the spread of Covid-19 and protecting people against serious illness.”

The spokesperson continued: “We do not want to take a position that might further destabilise our vulnerable staffing position and therefore have currently no plans for a mandatory vaccination programme at this time.

“This is consistent with the approach in Scotland, Wales and in the Republic of Ireland.”

Vaccination rates amongst health staff in are not routinely published by health authorities in Northern Ireland.

The British Medical Association (BMA), a group representing doctors, said almost 100% of doctors here are vaccinated with only a small number – most of whom are unable to take the vaccine for medical reasons – unvaccinated.

Dr Tom Black, head of the BMA’s Northern Ireland committee, said it is “not unreasonable” to expect NHS staff to be vaccinated but suggested a mandatory policy could be too “black and white” when it comes to possible medical complications for a small number of people with underlying conditions.

“It’s very important that staff are vaccinated to protect themselves and others,” he told the News Letter.

“The majority of doctors are already vaccinated. I would estimate it at 99%. Obviously, you will never get it to 100% because people will have medical conditions and contraindications, but I think a figure of 99% is very good.”

He continued: “You can’t be 100% black and white but the message we would like to get out is that we would like to get all our doctors vaccinated. All our surveys and our evidence shows that the number [of unvaccinated doctors] is very small.

“I think you do have to recognise that there are people who will not be able to be vaccinated due to their particular conditions. But the point has to be made that that number is small. For someone to work in the health service that doesn’t believe in vaccinations would be a very strange concept to me, because we are there to help people – not to put them at risk.

“I also think that at this moment in time if you make it mandatory you may lose staff from the health service.”

He added: “But having said all that, if a relative of mine was sick and I was paying for their healthcare I would expect the people looking after them to be vaccinated. I think we should expect the NHS to be able to provide staff who are doubly vaccinated.”

Trade unions including Unison and Nipsa have previously opposed mandatory vaccination.