octors and nurses will get a “substantial grace period” to get the Covid-19 jab or risk losing their job under Government plans, a minister has said.
Health minister Helen Whately added that health workers could be moved off the frontline if they refuse to get innoculated.
The Government took the first step towards mandatory Covid and flu jabs for frontline workers in health and care settings by launching a six-week consultation on the controversial move.
Ms Whately told Times Radio: “If we go forward…one of the things I would expect that we would do, just as we have done with care homes, is to give a substantial grace period to give people time to get vaccinated.”
While some NHS workers could be exempt on medical grounds from having the jab, others could lose their frontline jobs by not having it.
“You can look at whether there are alternative ways somebody could be deployed, for instance, in a role that doesn’t involve frontline work, or doesn’t involve being physically in the same setting as the patient, whether it’s, for instance, working on 111,” added Ms Whately.
Almost one in five London NHS healthcare staff are not double jabbed, according to the most recent NHS England data.
It showed that, by the end of August, 86 per cent of 201,915 permanent staff working for NHS trusts in the capital had received one dose and 80.7 per cent two doses, figures which partly reflect the lower take-up among BAME communities.
Launching the consultation, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Many patients being treated in hospitals and other clinical settings are most at risk of suffering serious consequences of Covid-19, and we must do what we can to protect them.”
Workers in care homes have already been told they will need to be double jabbed as a condition of deployment in England’s care homes by November 11, unless they are exempt.
But Professor Adam Finn, from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said making jabs compulsory was “kind of an admission of failure”.
He added: “It’s like saying you can’t either find the time or find the ability to explain to people why it makes sense and create the culture in which everybody does it because they understand why it’s important.”
More than 1,900 NHS staff in London were absent from work last month due to Covid.
There are also concerns about patients catching coronavirus while in hospital – more than one in 10 cases of coronavirus were attributed to so-called “nosocomial” infections in the first wave of the pandemic.
Separate data published this week by Barts Health, the capital’s biggest trust, revealed only 60 per cent of staff at Newham hospital had been double jabbed.
The figure was 64 per cent for Whipps Cross hospital, 67 per cent for the Royal London and 76 per cent at St Bartholomew’s.
Trusts face a challenge of cross-referencing their staff records with the national immunisation database to check uptake, as not all staff will have been jabbed at their own hospital.
Line managers are encouraged to have one-to-one conversations with unvaccinated staff. At Barts, all unvaccinated staff have received a personal communication from the trust’s chief medical officer and chief nurse urging them to take up the vaccine.
An “influencers’ forum” is also being used to encourage vaccine uptake amongst hesitant staff, with further engagement planned with faith leaders and community partners.
Today the NHS waiting list hit another record high as the treatment backlog caused by the pandemic worsened.
NHS England said there were 5,606,724 people awaiting non-emergency hospital treatment in July, including 807,701 in London.
The national figure was up more than 150,000 on the 5,454,314 people awaiting non-emergency care in June and is the highest since records began in 2007.
NHS England said there were now more than 6,300 covid patients in hospital, compared with fewer than 600 this time last year.
NHS staff have also had to contend with one of the busiest summers on record with 2.9 million attendances at major A&E departments in June and July.