The government’s approach to mandatory vaccines in care and the NHS has been described as "taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut" and has caused unnecessary and cruel heartache, according to a leading union.

An estimated 50,000 care home staff will lose their jobs with today's deadline for care workers to be double vaccinated (11th November). 

GMB, the union for care workers, said any remaining care staff who aren’t vaccinated were dismissed effective midnight last night, which will contribute to a potentially catastrophic staffing black hole.

Rachel Harrison, GMB National Officer, said: “Some will remain - those who are going through the medical exemption process have until Christmas to prove they fit the criteria for medical exemptions.

“Many unvaccinated GMB members have already left their jobs in care - often to work in the NHS where, tragically, they now face losing their jobs once again. Carers who have lost their jobs through being unvaccinated will have been served their notices of termination and will not be entitled to any pay offs. Some GMB members say they are struggling to apply for out of work benefits."

NHS staff have until spring 2022 to be double-vaccinated 

Earlier this week the health secretary said that vaccines will be mandatory from April for NHS staff, something the British Medication Association (BMA) and the Royal College of Physicians welcomed as it gives time for the government to release both its workforce impact assessment and it’s equality impact assessment.

The BMA said it was also pleased the government had listened to them regarding the flu vaccine by deciding to not make it mandatory for healthcare workers. It said it was vital that we understand why those who are eligible but unwilling might still not want the vaccine. 

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, added: “Given the current staffing crisis in the NHS and the possible implications of trying to introduce such measures in the midst of winter pressures, waiting until April is sensible, but it’s equally important that the government is aware of the consequences this policy could have even after the delay – and that clear steps are taken to mitigate this risk.
 
“Vaccination coverage among NHS workers is high – the latest data shows that in several hospital trusts in England the number of staff who have had both vaccinations is in excess of 90%. Even if a small number of staff were forced out of work because they are not vaccinated though, this would have a big impact on a health service that’s now under constant pressure and already has more than 93,000 unfilled vacancies.

"There may be potential for some healthcare workers to move to non-patient facing roles, and we would urge employers to explore all possible options rather than lose staff completely. Any reduction in the workforce will impact heavily on patient facing services as we face a record backlog of care." 

Practical and ethical implications of mandatory vaccines

The BMA added that it still argues that there is an important distinction between believing every healthcare worker should be vaccinated and advocating mandatory vaccinations for all NHS staff. Doing this comes with its own practical and also ethical implications – such as the right for anyone to make their own private healthcare decisions - and it hope that as Government progresses with plans to make the Covid jab compulsory for NHS staff, these are carefully considered and taken into account.

The Royal College of Physicians also stands by its view that vaccination should not be a condition of deployment in the health and wider social care sector within England.

Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “We wholeheartedly encourage all our members to take up the offer of Covid-19 and flu vaccinations, but we believe it is essential that this remains a free choice for all health and care staff.

“We know that 98-99% of physicians have been vaccinated but introducing such a requirement could drive those who choose not to receive the vaccine to leave the NHS. That will create further capacity challenges at a time when the health service is already overstretched.”

Immigration implications on staff shortages

A leading immigration lawyer says that the NHS and care sectors are dangerously close to collapse and without the staff, those in need will not be cared for appropriately.

Jemima Johnstone, head of corporate immigration at Gherson Solicitors, said: "The government needs to take a hard look at how to manage this crisis.  If they can rush through temporary visas for HGV drivers from across Europe they can certainly do the same for the care sector. The whole process needs to be overhauled. Under the current immigration rules employers who need to recruit care workers are only able to only sponsor non-UK and Irish nationals as Senior Care Workers – a role that meets the minimum deemed skill requirement for a ‘Skilled Worker’ visa. This needs to be expanded to recruit staff of all levels. 

"The situation has now reached a critical point and the government needs to ensure that the NHS and the wider care sector is not left in limbo come April.  The immigration process can potentially be achieved in six weeks, if recruiting a European national, but that’s with a focused approach to applying and scrupulous attention to the requirements, paying for priority service whenever it is available, and a fair share of good luck."