Dominic Raab has urged unvaccinated NHS staff in England to come forward for their Covid jabs amid calls for the deadline on mandatory shots to be extended.
Frontline healthcare workers in England must have two shots of Covid vaccine by 1 April, meaning they need to receive their first dose by 3 February to meet the deadline and avoid potentially losing their job.
While 90% of NHS staff have taken up the vaccine, mandatory vaccination is controversial and the looming deadline has led to warnings that more than 70,000 NHS staff in England could be lost at a time when the health service is under severe pressure.
Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme, Raab argued there was no need to postpone the deadline because the NHS was more resilient than it was in 2020 with more staff on which to draw.
“We continue to call for those to come forward to be boosted or vaccinated before the deadline,” he said. “Ultimately we have to make sure that we don’t have people putting patients at risk if they are not vaccinated.”
“The deadline is there to protect the most vulnerable in our hospitals, but we have got the resilience because we have got nearly 5,000 more doctors, nearly 11,000 more nurses than we did in 2020,” he added.
NHS staff who object to the policy demonstrated in central London on Saturday while further protests took place in Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. Scotland and Wales have not made the vaccines compulsory for health or care workers. Northern Ireland plans a public consultation on the issue.
An impact assessment by the Department of Health and Social Care warned that 73,000 NHS staff in England could be lost as a result of the compulsory jab policy. The Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, told BBC Radio 4 that he would not “rule out” recruiting NHS staff who lost their jobs in England, but added “we certainly won’t be going out there looking for them”.
Several health organisations called on ministers to postpone the deadline, but the view is not unanimous.
The Royal College of GPs said the policy should be delayed to prevent staff shortages. Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said compulsory vaccination for health professionals in England was “not the right way forward”.
Pat Cullen, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said the policy would “backfire” if it was not delayed, while Danny Mortimer, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations within the health service, said its members wanted more time to encourage and persuade hesitant staff to get vaccinated. But he added: “We do have to acknowledge that as the deadline approaches, some frontline staff will have to leave their present roles if they continue to decline to be vaccinated.”
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said the organisation did not believe a delay was the answer. “Our survey of trust leaders found that while there was a range of views towards a policy of mandatory vaccinations, a majority backed this policy as a means of protecting colleagues, patients and visitors from cross infection by unvaccinated staff.”