From Northumberland across to Teesside thousands of NHS workers throughout the North-East have been told they must get vaccinated in order to keep their jobs.
The directive says: “From 1 April 2022, all health and social care workers in England, including volunteers who have face-to-face contact with service users, will need to provide proof they have been fully-vaccinated unless they are exempt.”
This means technically, staff will need to have their first dose of a jab by 3 February or face being losing their job. Asian Standard has learned on 4 February – employees who are not exempt and fail to provide evidence of at least an initial jab will start receiving dismissal letters. Their notice period will end on 31 March.
The Government published a risk assessment last November estimating the controversial policy could lead to 73,000 staff leaving the service. The NHS currently has nearly 100,000 vacancies, including 40,000 nursing roles. Due to the pandemic and extra pressures some staff have already left the service. Around 2,000 staff currently work for Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust alone.
The Government believes the measures will protect workers and prevent extensive staff absences, with those who contract the virus less likely to become seriously ill.
Hospital staff who refuse the vaccine could be offered redeployment to non-patient-facing roles. If this isn’t possible however, they could lose their jobs.
Both the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives have called for the Health Secretary Sajid Javed to delay the deadline because of worries the policy will create huge staff shortages at what is already a highly pressurised time.
It’s important to remember the policy applies to those working within the private sector as well – roles affected include doctors, nurses, dentists, domiciliary care workers, porters and receptionists.
The RCM’s chief executive Gill Walton said: “Moving forward with mandatory vaccination could only see staffing levels fall further. The government has opened a Pandora’s box of unforeseen consequences – but there is an opportunity now to close it.
“Levels of vaccination in the NHS are high and rising and we should be urging discussion, persuasion and education to increase vaccination among NHS staff, not the hammer blow of mandating it.”
There’s been no such move by the Health Secretary to delay the plan as we approach late January.
Hospitals in the region can’t comment individually, but in a statement via NHS England for the North -East and Yorkshire, NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis told Asian Standard: “The NHS has always been clear that the life-saving Covid vaccination is the best protection against the virus, and while it is currently a recommendation for health and care staff to be vaccinated, it will soon become a legal requirement.
“The overwhelming majority of staff in NHS organisations, nine in ten, have already had their second jab, and NHS employers will continue to support and encourage staff who have not yet been vaccinated to take up the offer of the 1st and 2nd doses ahead of 1, April, when regulations come into effect.”
Asian Standard has also been told a letter was sent to NHS systems on 14 January providing the latest information on Vaccination as a Condition of Deployment (VCOD) for all healthcare staff. It read:
Dear colleague Update:
“Vaccination as a condition of deployment (VCOD) for all healthcare workers
“On 6 January 2022, the Government made new legislation, approved by Parliament, which amended the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014 (“the 2014 Regulations”). As you will be aware, in accordance with these regulations, individuals undertaking CQC regulated activities in England must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no later than 1 April 2022 to protect patients, regardless of their employer, including secondary and primary care. The regulations will apply equally across the public (NHS) and independent health sector. NHS England and NHS Improvement Skipton House 80 London Road London SE1 6LH 14 January 2022
“A 12-week grace period, beginning on 6 January, allows unvaccinated individuals to have had their first dose by 3 February 2022, in order to have received their second dose by the 1 April 2022 deadline.”
It was signed by Professor Em Wilkinson-Brice, Professor Stephen Powis, Ruth May, Dr Nikki Kanani MBE, Dr Keith Ridge CBE, Sara Hurley and Suzanne Rastrick OBE.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson added: “NHS and care staff do amazing work and we are thankful to those who have chosen to get the vaccine.
“Health and social care workers are responsible for looking after some of the most vulnerable people in society, many of whom are more likely to suffer serious health consequences if exposed to the virus.
“This is about patient safety, and ensuring people in hospital or care have as much protection as possible. Vaccinations remain our best defence against COVID-19.”