Mandatory vaccines for patient-facing NHS staff will be scrapped subject to consultation and parliamentary approval, the health secretary has announced.
In a statement delivered to Parliament last night (31 January), Sajid Javid confirmed the DHSC is to launch a consultation on ending vaccination as a condition of deployment in health and social care settings.
It comes after a week of speculation that the Government intended to walk back the policy, days ahead of the deadline for first doses on Thursday (3 February).
Mr Javid said: ‘While vaccination remains our very best line of defence against Covid-19, I believe it is no longer proportionate to require vaccination as a condition of deployment through statute.’
The U-turn comes in light of two new factors based on ‘fresh advice’ from the UKHSA’s chief medical officer, he said.
He noted that the statute was first proposed in response to the severity of the Delta variant which was the dominant strain at the time, and that it is ‘only right’ for the policy to be reviewed.
Additionally, the greater population is now ‘better protected against hospitalisation’ from Covid-19, he said.
When taken together, the Government now has evidence that the risk of hospital admission with Omicron is ‘approximately half of that for Delta’.
The DHSC said it hopes the consultation will last just weeks, and it will revoke the regulations based on the response.
Do not fire staff, employers told
The NHS has also been asked to review its policies on hiring new staff and the deployment of existing staff, Mr Javid said.
In a subsequent letter sent to PCN and ICS leads, NHS England said it was aware employers will have begun to prepare for formal meetings with unvaccinated staff on their deployment.
However, it also warned them against terminating unvaccinated employees.
It said: ‘This change in Government policy means we request that employers do not serve notice of termination to employees affected by the VCOD regulations.’
Prior to Mr Javid’s backtrack yesterday, Government estimates had suggested the mandate would see 72,900 unvaccinated staff dismissed by the 1 April deadline, of which 3,000 GP staff could have ended up removed from patient-facing roles.