Government renews commitment to mandatory jabs for NHS staff despite calls for U-turn
The Government has renewed its commitment to making vaccinations mandatory for NHS staff in England from April 1, despite several MPs calling for a U-turn.
On Monday, MPs from all sides of the political spectrum used a Westminster Hall debate to oppose plans for compulsory vaccination for health service staff in England, arguing it will not only lead to a staffing crisis but will also “turn hesitant people into hostile people”.
Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) said he was “hugely supportive of the vaccine” but warned that forcing people to have it is “utterly illiberal, utterly wrong and a challenge to our freedoms”.
He went on: “What is the Government going to do to step up its efforts to educate and to inform, to tackle the common objections and to answer them rigorously and regularly through challenge?
“Changing hearts and minds will take skill, patience, and persuasion. Compulsion will do the opposite to what the Government thinks it will achieve, I am certain.
“Forcing people to be vaccinated, who have chosen so far not to, will turn hesitant people into hostile people.”
Labour MP for York Central Rachael Maskell said the exodus of staff will “seriously exacerbate not only the Covid crisis, but also place incredible stress on staff who are having to remain”.
Conservative MP Ben Bradley (Mansfield) said he totally understood people’s willingness or wish to choose a vaccinated carer over an unvaccinated carer, but added: “Truth be told that is not the choice, it’s vaccinated carer or no carer, and if it were my elderly relative being looked after I would certainly prefer them to have somebody rather than nobody.”
SNP MP Steven Bonnar (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) said the NHS cannot afford for employees to be “absent from work” and that it would be a “form of self sabotage to terminate valuable hard-working healthcare workers now”.
He urged the UK Government to adopt the Scottish Government’s approach of “allowing individuals to have the freedom of what they put in their own bodies”.
Shadow health minister Justin Madders said that “one way or the other”, ministers need to come forward with a “definite” statement before the end of the week.
He said: “There are 10 days to go to the first deadline for vaccination and we do not want another inquiry, we don’t want a kicking the can down the road.
“We need a clear and common position agreed with as many of the stakeholders, the royal colleges and the trade unions as possible so that we have certainty.
“If the decision is to press ahead, then that needs to be accompanied with a credible plan for engagement with staff and how the inevitable staffing shortfall we’ve heard about tonight, will be dealt with.
“If the decision is to halt or pause, then that also needs to be accompanied by clear assurances that patients and service users will not be at any greater risk from unvaccinated staff.”
Business minister Paul Scully renewed the Government’s intention to press ahead with the mandatory jabs for health service staff, saying: “As the chief medical officer Chris Whitty has rightly said, people who are looking after other people who are vulnerable do have a professional responsibility to get vaccinated.
“And so we remain committed to bringing these measures in on the first of April.”
Mr Scully added that “outside these specific settings”, it is “fair to say that there could also be some other circumstances where it may be lawful for an employer to require staff to be vaccinated”.
He said: “There’s no general ‘yes, it is lawful, no, it’s not lawful’ answer to that question. It’ll depend on the facts and details of each case.”
Two vaccine doses for care home staff in England have been mandatory as a condition of employment since November.
The new policy affects frontline NHS and wider social care staff working in regulated settings in England.
The deadline for these workers to have their first vaccine doses is February 3, and they must be double jabbed before the policy kicks in on April 1.
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