Mandatory vaccination: how can the NHS lose more nurses?

With staff sickness absence levels staggeringly high, the government’s COVID-19 rule makes no sense – and that’s putting aside coercion over a healthcare choice

Protesters march through central London during a demonstration against rules such as mandatory vaccination, particularly for healthcare staff Picture: Shutterstock

There have been many moments of confusion over rules and regulations since the pandemic began, when things just didn’t seem to add up.

Yet few events have made less sense than the ‘no jab, no job’ diktat to NHS staff in England, which comes at a time of severe staff shortages.

Calls for delay as thousands of healthcare staff face losing their jobs

Health unions and leaders are demanding a delay in implementation of the government rule, which could see staff redeployed or dismissed from 3 February if they have not had their first COVID-19 vaccination. They need to have had two by 1 April to remain in roles involving direct patient care.

Though health and social care secretary Savid Javid says the policy will be 'kept under review', no changes have yet been made.

‘If a nurse coerced and threatened a patient to accept a treatment, they would likely find themselves the subject of a disciplinary procedure or hearing’

The government itself estimates that more than 70,000 staff could lose their jobs as result. Half that number of staff were off sick in a single day in January, but even that figure was not the peak of NHS employee sickness absence in recent weeks, such is the staffing crisis. Nursing alone had some 40,000 vacancies in England before the pandemic even began.

The figures do not compute and doggedly pursuing this policy at breakneck speed is incredibly shortsighted.

Respect for patients’ choice, but not for nurses’

Set against this cold calculation, and at the heart of the issue, are individuals who for whatever personal reason have chosen not to be vaccinated. One unvaccinated nurse told Nursing Standard of the ‘insurmountable’ and ‘dehumanising’ pressure to get vaccinated. The individual, who has had her hepatitis B and other vaccinations, simply wants more time to consider her choice.

Nurses are experienced in helping patients to make choices about their care, and many will be involved – formally and informally – in similar conversations with unvaccinated colleagues.

But if a nurse coerced and threatened a patient to accept a treatment, they would likely find themselves the subject of a disciplinary procedure, or up before a Nursing and Midwifery Council hearing.

Nurses must be afforded the same care and respect as their patients.

Pushing nursing staff to the brink will only lead to further workforce deficit – in both numbers and morale.

Flavia Munn is Nursing Standard editor