Responding to confirmation from the Government that it will launch a consultation into a policy of mandatory Covid-19 vaccination for healthcare staff, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said:
“Mandatory vaccination for NHS staff is an incredibly complex issue that raises many ethical, legal and practical questions. Therefore, it is only right that any Government proposals are put out to a proper consultation, during which time staff and representatives are given an opportunity to contribute.
“As the trade union and professional body for doctors, the BMA will of course be discussing this issue with our members and responding in full to the consultation.
“While some healthcare workers already need to be immunised or show they are not infectious with other diseases to work in certain areas, any specific proposal for the compulsory vaccination of healthcare staff against Covid-19 would raise new ethical and legal implications.
“Doctors want the vaccine programme to be a success as much as anyone, recognising the instrumental role widespread vaccine coverage will have in stemming the spread of Covid-19, preventing serious illness and saving lives. In turn, this will also reduce pressure on the health service and in time hopefully allow for more restrictions on all of our lives to be eased.
“Vaccine uptake among doctors remains high. But as we have said previously, where fewer members of staff have been vaccinated, there must be an understanding of why this is so. Vaccine hesitancy is not the same as flat-out refusal, and there could be several reasons why some staff may be unable or unwilling to be vaccinated. Doctors naturally want to be protected against this potentially lethal infection that has already taken far too many lives, including hundreds of their colleagues’, so those who do decline a vaccine are unlikely to do so lightly. Compulsion is a blunt instrument to tackle a complex issue. Recent research has highlighted that pressurising health and social care workers can have damaging effects, leading to an erosion of trust, worsening concerns about the vaccine and hardened stances on declining vaccination.
“That there appears to be lower uptake among people from certain ethnic backgrounds needs serious consideration, and any policy on mandatory vaccination for staff must not be discriminatory.
“Therefore, efforts should be focused on targeted engagement and possible alternative mitigations against transmission for those who are not vaccinated – something that has been reinforced in recent NHS England guidance. Crucially, doctors who have faced such a gruelling year, and may have given decades of their lives to the NHS, must not now or in future face losing their jobs for declining a vaccine.
“With regards to the policy on care home staff, we will be looking at how this will impact our members who play a vital role providing care to care home residents and assisting them where necessary. Meanwhile, clear clinical guidance and information for care home staff around medical exemptions must be provided, so as not to cause an influx of additional workload for doctors who are already experiencing unprecedented pressures meeting the needs of their patients.
“We look forward to submitting a formal response to this consultation in due course.”
Notes to editors
The BMA is a professional association and trade union 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.