Fears of the mass sacking of more than 70,000 NHS workers have prompted the Government to consider pausing its plans for compulsory vaccination for health service staff, i can reveal.
A temporary suspension of the controversial policy is being “actively” looked at within the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) amid dire warnings from hospital trusts and GPs of the severe impact of staff shortages on services, sources said.
The need for a gap between doses means that anyone who does not get their first dose by February 3 will be told they will be losing their job, with little chance of redeployment.
With several Tory MPs vigorously opposed to the compulsory vaccination plan for NHS staff, not least because of the impact a staffing crisis will have on their local hospitals, a pause would also help Boris Johnson in his battle to avoid a confidence vote by his own party.
Pressure on the PM and Health Secretary to halt the mandatory jabs programme has intensified in the past week amid new internal Whitehall documents suggesting two jabs would not be enough to cope with the Omicron variant.
i‘s analysis of NHS England figures shows 80,092 NHS workers have not had a single dose of the Covid vaccine, and a Government impact assessment has warned 73,000 patient-facing workers are unjabbed.
Those who are medically exempt will be able to keep their jobs.
The Royal College of Nursing has warned that it will be an act of “self-sabotage” at a time when the NHS is suffering from staff shortfalls.
One London trust alone warned it could have to fire 1,600 staff, and several trusts across the country are understood to have asked NHS England to urge the DHSC to rethink.
One Government source said its line remained unchanged, adding: “We are cracking on with the policy.”
However, MPs have pounced on a little-noticed hint from Mr Johnson himself, when he told lockdown-sceptic backbenchers that “we will reflect on the way ahead”.
Tory backbencher and former Government chief whip Mark Harper, who is chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Conservative MPs, told i: “Mandatory vaccination of NHS & social care staff is not justified by the evidence – two doses provide weak or no protection against infection [by the Omicron variant] and even after a booster it wanes quickly after 10 weeks.
“Practically, the NHS and our social care system cannot afford to lose tens of thousands of skilled dedicated staff at any time but certainly not now.
“It’s now urgent for the Government to rethink, drop the policy and deliver protection through testing instead.”