Mandatory Covid vaccines for NHS staff suffers setback in the Lords

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Mandatory Covid vaccines for NHS staff suffers setback in the Lords

The Government’s attempt to force through legislation that would make Covid vaccination mandatory for all NHS staff in England suffered a setback after the proposals were rejected in the House of Lords.

The Lords Committee said the evidence underpinning the proposals was not strong enough to support compulsory vaccination and insisted there was no detailed impact assessment to accompany the legislation which is set to come into effect from April 1 next year.

The Government, which received more than 34,000 responses to its consultation, said earlier this month that it would publish a full impact assessment as soon as possible. It has, however, published an equality impact assessment for care home workers.

In its response to the consultation, the Government said increasing vaccination uptake "was likely to reduce sickness absence" among health workers. It claimed absence levels were 4.1 per cent before the pandemic but reached over 12 per cent during the first wave of Covid in April 2020.

"As of 6 October 2021, the number of sickness absences (seven-day average) was 74,863 in NHS trusts, of which around 15,500 staff were absent for Covid-19 reasons, including the need to self-isolate," the government said, insisting the NHS "cannot sustain such high levels of absence."

Some health and care workers will be exempt from the regulations, including under-18s, those who are clinically exempt from Covid vaccination, anyone who has taken part or is currently taking part in a clinical trial for a Covid vaccine and staff who do not have direct, face-to-face contact with patients.

The Committee, however, criticised the government’s lack of “practical detail” over its use of terms such as “face-to-face” and “otherwise engaged” in laying out who should be vaccinated.

“[The Department of Health and Social Care] indicates, for example, that those who do voluntary work within the health and social care sector, and those who do maintenance work separate from providing healthcare such as installing IT equipment will also need to be vaccinated,” the Committee said in its report.

It also argued the government failed to provide evidence that the benefit of mandatory vaccination outweighs the “major” disruption it could bring to the health service given 126,000 employees would lose their job because of non-compliance according to the DHSC’s own figures. That, the Committee said, would result in £270 million in additional recruitment and training costs.

According to the DHSC, 208,000 NHS workers are unvaccinated but its legislation would see 54,000 additional staff vaccinated.

Criticising what it described as "the lack of a thorough and detailed impact assessment to accompany the legislation,” the Committee said parliament and the wider public was still unclear about the “effects of the legislation on the operational effectiveness of the healthcare system.”

“While there are clear societal benefits from the vaccination programme, the increase in protection from vaccinating the last 8 per cent of health workers may be marginal,” it said, adding there were no “contingency plans to cope with the 5.4 per cent NHS staff losses which may result when the regulations take effect in April 2022.”

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has voiced its opposition to mandatory flu and Covid vaccinations for health and care staff.

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