BMA says scrapping mandatory vaccination policy is the right move given potentially ‘devastating’ impact on staffing and patient care 

Press release from the BMA

Location: England
Last reviewed: 31 January 2022

The British Medical Association says that the Government’s decision to scrap the policy requiring NHS workers in England to be vaccinated against Covid-19 as a condition of their employment is the right one, warning that it could have had a ‘devastating’ impact on an already stretched workforce and therefore patient care. 

Patient-facing NHS workers who are not medically exempt would have faced dismissal if they had not received their second dose of vaccine by 1 April. To do so, they would have needed to have received their first dose by this Thursday, 3 February. 

With estimates suggesting around 50,000 NHS staff are yet to receive their first vaccine, the BMA says that to have lost such a significant proportion of the workforce when the NHS is already vastly understaffed and at a time when the health service is experiencing some of its most intense pressures ever, would have compromised services and patient safety. 

Given this and the changing context of Omicron, which continues to spread rapidly, even in vaccinated individuals, today’s announcement is a sensible decision, the BMA says.

The Association still believes, however, that infection control measures must be in place in healthcare settings, for example access to regular testing and adequate PPE.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “Vaccination remains the best way to protect people against serious illness from Covid-19, so it is important that anyone who is eligible and offered the Covid-19 vaccine takes up the invite as soon as possible and we encourage all healthcare workers to do this. 

“But while the BMA fully supports the vaccination rollout, it is now clear that the impact of mandatory vaccination on NHS staffing levels at a time of acute workforce shortages and a record waiting lists, would have put the continuity of healthcare services at risk and therefore compromised patient care and safety. 

“NHS hospitals in England have around 99,000 vacancies already, with further shortages in general practice. Meanwhile the BMA estimates that we are short of 50,000 doctors when compared with our most comparable EU neighbours. To lose a further 50,000 staff in one fell swoop because of this policy would have been devastating for the workforce, services and patients, resulting in millions fewer GP appointments and hundreds of thousands fewer hospital procedures each year.

“Therefore, today’s decision is the right one, and is a more proportionate approach that takes into account the changing nature of Covid-19 and how differently the now dominant, and highly-transmissible, variant Omicron behaves compared with Delta. 

“Patients rightly deserve to be protected in healthcare settings. Instead of focusing solely on the vaccination status of staff, the Government must also ensure other measures are in place to help prevent the risk of infection. These include adherence to specified ventilation standards, regular testing, the use of respirator masks by staff to prevent spread, and the provision of FFP2 masks to patients - especially those who are vulnerable - since these also protect the wearer.

“We welcome the announcement of a consultation on ending vaccination as a condition of deployment, to ensure that any revised policy is based on the best available evidence and the interests of staff and patient safety.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.