COVID logic is an extraordinary thing. It allows the government to introduce vaccine mandates for poorly-paid carers predominantly in the private sector, but the House of Lords are not prepared to sanction mandates for government-paid NHS staff. The Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee said: ‘Evidence is insufficient to back mandatory NHS staff vaccination.’
Their report explains that according to figures produced by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), 208,000 NHS staff, of a 1.3million total headcount, are not currently vaccinated. This is a small proportion and less than the 70 per cent which is the estimate for herd immunity within communities.
They also calculated that if mandated, 54,000 would take up the vaccine while 126,000 would leave their jobs. The committee were worried about repercussions. They said: ‘Given the legislation is anticipated to cause £270million in additional recruitment and training costs and major disruption to the health and care provision at the end of the grace period, very strong evidence should be provided to support this policy choice.’
They had other concerns about the proposal to mandate vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 for NHS staff in England, particularly around whether the benefits of vaccinating the remaining 8 per cent of NHS workers were in proportion and how the NHS would cope with losing the 5.4 per cent unwilling to be jabbed.
They were scathing about the quality of evidence presented to them by the government and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). Their report said: ‘We are disappointed that the Explanatory Memorandum (EM) lacks all practical detail. Its content is minimal, giving only a high-level overview of the policy without giving an adequate description of how the legislation will apply in the real world or what its consequences may be.
‘There is no explanation of why the current level of 92 per cent is insufficient, whether a 100 per cent vaccination rate is feasible, and why local action is not possible to deal with facilities falling below the 80 per cent minimum staff vaccination rate advocated by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).’
The committee also criticised the department for failing to include in the legislation practical detail about how expressions such as ‘face to face’ or ‘otherwise engaged’ would be applied, referring instead to guidance to be produced in the future.
The committee’s Conservative chairman, Robin Hodgson (Baron Hodgson of Astley Abbotts), said: ‘We fully support high levels of vaccination, but DHSC is accountable to Parliament for its decisions and needs to give us a clear statement of the effect of these regulations, the effect of doing nothing, and any other solutions considered, so Parliament fully understands all the consequences of what it is being asked to agree to. This is particularly important when the NHS is already under such pressure.
‘DHSC has provided no single coherent statement to explain and justify its intended policy, and this undermines the ability of the House to undertake effective scrutiny of the proposed legislation.’
Labour peer Glenys Thornton, former parliamentary under-secretary for health, worried about the strain that mandatory vaccination would put the NHS under and said it would probably result in chronic staff shortages. She asked: ‘Have the government considered and taken account of the fact that the NHS is already under the most intense pressure this winter? Waiting lists are close to 6million, there are already more than 90,000 vacancies across the NHS, and in his Budget the Chancellor failed to allocate funding for training budgets to train the medics we need for the future.
‘There will be anxiety at local trust level. However laudable the principle, it could exacerbate some of these chronic understaffing problems. We simply cannot afford to lose thousands of NHS staff overnight. Indeed, I spent this morning, as a non-executive of my local trust, discussing risk and its mitigation. Without doubt, the highest risk facing the whole of the NHS is staff shortage.’
She pointed out that 90 per cent of NHS staff were already vaccinated and many of those who were not had good reason not to be. ‘Some of the 10 per cent of NHS staff who are not vaccinated include those with medical exemptions, those who are on long-term sick and those who could not get the vaccine first time round because they were ill with Covid.’
She asked of Health Secretary Sajid Javid: ‘When does he consider there to be success? Does full vaccination across the NHS look like 94 per cent, 95 per cent or 96 per cent? What are we aiming for here? What is the target?’
On November 9, Mr Javid announced that all staff who work in health and social care settings regulated by the Care Quality Commission will have to be fully vaccinated by April 1, 2022. ‘We must avoid preventable harm and protect patients in the NHS, protect colleagues in the NHS, and protect the NHS itself,’ he said.
However, it is estimated that 73,000 staff could choose to leave their jobs rather than risk the experimental Covid vaccinations which have been proven to cause blood clots, myocarditis and pericarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle and sac), paralysis of the facial nerve causing Bell’s Palsy, and Guillain-Barré syndrome which causes limb paralysis.
Unions representing health and social care staff raised concerns about mandating vaccines saying that the focus should be on persuasion not coercion.
Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said the union took the view that a ‘campaign of persuasion of the benefits of the Covid vaccination is the best way to achieve maximum coverage.’
Sara Gorton, head of health for Unison, said: ‘This wasn’t something the government needed to do. The effective and supportive approach taken by NHS trusts has persuaded the overwhelming majority of health staff to have both Covid shots. Now this sledgehammer policy risks doing more harm than good.’ She added that forcing jabs in care homes had caused an ‘unprecedented staffing crisis’.
In November, one worker told Unison that care-home staffing levels were ‘dangerously low’ and that patients were left in dirty beds and denied proper baths. She said: ‘They aren’t dying with dignity because there’s not enough staff to sit with people in their final hours. Residents are being neglected, meals are late and staff are exhausted.’
If mandatory vaccination is approved for the NHS, hospital will be the last place people feel safe to receive health care.