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Unions warn against compulsory COVID and flu jabs for healthcare staff

Mandatory vaccines could destroy fragile morale and further deplete the workforce

Mandatory vaccines could destroy fragile morale and further deplete the workforce, Unison believes

COVID-19 and flu vaccinations could become mandatory for all front-line nurses in England, the government said as it launched a consultation on the issue.

Consultation will inform decision on mandating vaccines for nurses in England

But Unison has warned that mandating the vaccines could cause resentment, ‘destroy already fragile morale’, and even cause staff to leave.

Mandatory vaccines could destroy fragile morale and further deplete the workforce, Unison believes

Photo of masked nurse vaccinating a colleague, the case for mandatory vaccination is being considered for nurses in England
The case for mandatory vaccination is being considered for nurses in England Picture: Alamy

COVID-19 and flu vaccinations could become mandatory for all front-line nurses in England, the government said as it launched a consultation on the issue.

Consultation will inform decision on mandating vaccines for nurses in England

But Unison has warned that mandating the vaccines could cause resentment, ‘destroy already fragile morale’, and even cause staff to leave.

The six-week consultation will take views on whether all health and social care staff in direct contact with patients should have both vaccines, with a decision expected in winter.

If agreed, it would mean only those who are fully vaccinated, unless medically exempt, could be deployed to deliver health and care services.

All staff deployed in registered care homes in England must already be double vaccinated against COVID-19 from 11 November, unless medically exempt.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) Social Care Working Group said the overlap between sectors makes a strong scientific case for there to be similar approaches to vaccination.

Mandatory vaccination could create resentment

The RCN said the focus should be on communicating the benefits of vaccination, rather than mandating them.

And Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: ‘Pushing NHS staff to get vaccinated will create resentment, destroy already fragile morale and reduce take-up.

‘Mandatory vaccinations in care homes has heralded an exodus of staff. The government is in danger of making the same mistake twice. With waiting lists growing, the NHS can ill-afford to lose any more staff.’

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said some 92% of NHS trust staff in England have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 88% having had both doses. However, uptake rates between NHS trusts can vary from about 78% to 94% for both doses.

National flu vaccination rates in the health service have increased from 14% in 2002 to 76% last year. But in some settings, rates are as low as 53%, according to the DHSC.

Concerns over staffing levels as many could quit

Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid urged all staff to get vaccinated regardless of the outcome of the consultation.

‘Whatever happens, I urge the small minority of NHS staff who have not yet been jabbed to consider getting vaccinated – for their own health as well as those around them,’ he said.

The care industry has previously expressed concern over the effect mandatory vaccination may have on the sector’s already stretched staffing levels.

Last month, a survey of 1,000 care managers by the Institute of Health and Social Care Management and the PA News agency found that one third (33%) said they had staff quit or hand in their notice over the requirement to be vaccinated.


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