Doctors warn 'no jab, no job' rule will make NHS staff shortages worse

Doctors warn ‘no jab, no job’ rule will make NHS staff shortages worse after consultant confronted Sajid Javid on camera to say he doesn’t want vaccine because he ‘has had COVID, and feels protected by antibodies’

  • Ministers have been urged the government to postpone NHS vaccine policy
  • NHS staff must have one vaccine dose by February 3 and two before March 31 
  • But the TUC warned that the policy will make NHS staff shortages even worse
  • It comes after a doctor told Sajid Javid why he did not believe in vaccination
  • Mr Javid was challenged by Dr Steve James at King’s College Hospital in London 

Trade union leaders have warned the government that mandatory Covid-19 vaccines for NHS workers will make staff shortages worse.

Last month, MPs approved mandatory vaccinations for NHS and social care staff by April this year.

The government decided that all NHS staff in England who have direct contact with patients must have their first dose of a Covid vaccine by February 3, so they can receive their second dose before the March 31 deadline. 

But the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has called for the policy to be delayed ‘with immediate effect’ to avoid a shortage of key workers.

It comes after Steve James, a consultant anaesthetist at King’s College Hospital in London, who has worked in the ICU since early 2020 treating Covid patients, told Sajid Javid why he did not believe in vaccination. 

Meanwhile, social care isolation rules have been relaxed following concerns over staff being off sick and problems discharging patients from hospital. 

TUC called for the mandatory vaccine policy for NHS staff to be delayed to avoid a shortage of key workers, after Dr Steve James told Sajid Javid (pictured) about his refusal to be vaccinated

There are already fears of staff shortages as 39,142 NHS workers in hospital trusts in England were absent for Covid-19 reasons on January 2, NHS England data shows.

This was up a staggering 59 per cent on the previous week and more than three times up from the start of December, when there were 12,508 workers absent. 

Hospitals in Lincolnshire declared a staffing emergency, while bosses at United Lincolnshire Hospitals warned that so many doctors and nurses were now absent from shifts that patient care was ‘compromised’.

It was announced earlier this week that hundreds of troops are being sent into London hospitals to fill in for NHS staff who are isolating because of Omicron. 

But the TUC warned that the mandatory vaccination policy will worsen the staffing crisis, making it impossible for NHS trusts to maintain safe staffing levels in the coming weeks. 

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘We are in the middle of an NHS staffing crisis, borne not only from covid absences, but also long-term problems that need long-term solutions. Now is not the right time to introduce more bureaucracy.

‘Legislation for this policy has passed but this is precisely the wrong time to implement it. NHS Trusts need to focus their resources on patient care. 

The government said all NHS staff in England who have direct contact with patients must have their first dose of a Covid vaccine by February 3 (file photo)

 

NHS England data shows a total of 68,082 staff were off sick on Boxing Day. More than a third of the absences (24,632) were because of Covid, up 31 per cent on the 18,829 who missed work because of the virus one week earlier. Covid absences have more than doubled in a fortnight, with just 12,240 off because they were infected or isolating two weeks earlier on December 12

‘We need to keep patients safe and maintain safe staffing levels. As hospitals declare critical incidents amid a surge in Covid cases, the NHS cannot afford to lose experienced and skilled staff.’

Latest data shows that more than 90 per cent of NHS staff have had at least two doses while more than 60 per cent have had a booster jab or third dose. 

The TUC has also called on ministers to prioritise access to lateral flow and PCR tests for key workers and ensure NHS staff have access to high quality PPE.

The union body said the staffing crisis existed before the Covid crisis and was driven by a decade of funding cuts and pay restraint, claiming one in ten NHS posts were vacant before the pandemic in 2019.  

Sir David Nicholson, the former chief executive of NHS England who now chairs the Sandwell and West Birmingham hospitals trust, on Wednesday warned that it could lose hundreds of staff from the mandatory vaccination policy.

He told the Guardian: ‘My understanding on vaccines is that, though we may not put it in these terms, we will essentially be giving unvaccinated staff notice at the start of February.

‘I am sure that’s not quite the right way of putting it but that is the inexorable logic of where we are.’ 

Last week, NHS Confederation chief Matthew Taylor said the system was in a ‘state of crisis’ and hospitals were scrabbling for medics to plug a shortage in staff. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care told the Guardian that there were ‘no plans to change the implementation dates’. 

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘The evidence is clear – vaccinations remain our best defence against COVID-19 by preventing infection and saving lives.

‘Health and social care workers are responsible for looking after some of the most vulnerable people in society, many of whom are more likely to suffer serious health consequences if exposed to the virus. 

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust recorded the highest number and proportion of Covid absences out of all trusts in England, with one in 16 staff members (6.4 per cent) missing work due to the virus on December 26. Homerton University Hospital trust (5.7 per cent), Royal Papworth Hospital trust (5.1 per cent) and North Middlesex University Hospital trust (4.8 per cent) saw the highest proportion of their workforce stuck at home with the virus – equating to around one in 20

‘This is about patient safety, and ensuring people in hospital or care have as much protection as possible.

‘There are record numbers of staff working in our NHS, with over 4,800 more doctors and over 10,900 more nurses compared to October 2020. 

‘While over 90 per cent have been fully vaccinated we continue to work to boost uptake further.’ 

MailOnline has contacted the Department of Health and Social Care for further comment.

It comes after Steve James, a consultant anaesthetist at King’s College Hospital in London, spoke to the Health Secretary about his refusal to be vaccinated despite working in intensive care treating Covid patients since the start of the pandemic. 

In a video released by Sky News, the doctor told Mr Javid: ‘I had COVID at some point, I’ve got antibodies, and I’ve been working on COVID ICU since the beginning.

‘I have not had a vaccination, I do not want to have a vaccination. The vaccines are reducing transmission only for about eight weeks for Delta, with Omicron it’s probably less.

‘And for that, I would be dismissed if I don’t have a vaccine? The science isn’t strong enough.’

The Health Secretary politely expressed his disagreement and urged the public to get boosted during his visit. 

He said: ‘I respect that, but there’s also many different views. I understand it, and obviously we have to weigh all that up for both health and social care, and there will always be a debate about it.’ 

But he took a parting swipe at the doctor, saying the government were taking advice ‘from people who are actually experts’.

Mr James said he did not believe Covid-19 was causing ‘very significant problems’ for young people, adding that his patients in the ICU had been ‘extremely overweight’ with multiple other co-morbidities. 

He said the Health Secretary did not seem to agree with him but had listened to his opinion.

‘I wouldn’t say he agreed with me,’ he said. ‘I had the feeling he was listening.’ 

During his visit, Mr Javid said he wanted to thank NHS workers across the country for ‘the amazing work they’ve been doing throughout this pandemic but particularly during these current challenging times’. 

But Mr Javid also warned hospital admissions were rising and that the NHS was facing a ‘rocky few weeks ahead’.

He said: ‘We are in a stronger position than we were last year thanks to the vaccinations and the testing, we have boosted more people in this country than in any other country in Europe, we’ve got more antivirals per head than any other country in Europe, we’re testing more people per head than any other country in Europe.’ 

He added: ‘The best thing anyone can do if they haven’t already is get boosted or get your first or second jab if you haven’t had one.’

During the visit he said the intensive care unit for Covid patients had an estimated 70 per cent of patients unvaccinated and that this was a ‘reminder to us all’ of the importance of vaccination. 

Meanwhile, social care isolation rules have been relaxed following concerns over staff being off sick and problems discharging patients from hospital.

Previously, if a care home had at least two coronavirus cases, outbreak control measures – such as blocking new admissions and indoor visitors except those with essential caregiver status – were put in place for 28 days. 

The Government has announced this has been shortened to 14 days in a move to allow more family members to visit loved ones and help NHS services safely discharge patients. 

It comes after services had experienced staff isolating or off sick with Covid, an increasing number of outbreaks, problems with accessing tests and delayed results.

The Department of Health and Social Care said the change will be kept under review.

A spokesperson said: ‘Throughout the pandemic we have done everything we can to protect those receiving care with the measures in place based on the latest scientific and expert advice.

‘A change has been made to outbreak restrictions reducing the period from 28 to 14 days in line with this advice. 

‘We keep these measures under constant review to ensure we continue to protect the lives, health and wellbeing of residents and fully recognise the impact of isolation and the importance of companionship on physical and mental wellbeing.’ 

Mr Jabvid politely expressed his disagreement and urged the public to get boosted. Above: Mr Javid with Dr James and another medic during his tour of Kings College Hospital

Stephen Chandler, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass), said providers across England had been reporting absences of between 5 per cent and 10 per cent of their workforce.

He said he was aware of two councils where decisions had been made to reduce the number of visits carers could make to some people in their homes on a case-by-case basis.

Two national supported living providers, who help people with mental health needs and learning disabilities to live independent lives, had told him they were not able to support people going out as much.

Thousands of hospital patients, who were ready to be discharged into care homes, had been stuck due to the staffing shortages. 

Meanwhile, NHS Confederation chief Matthew Taylor has said the system was in a ‘state of crisis’ and hospitals were scrabbling for medics to plug a shortage in staff. 

Mr Taylor said: ‘In many parts of the health service, we are currently in a state of crisis. In the face of high levels of demand and staff absence some hospitals are having to declare a ‘critical incident’. 

‘Some hospitals are making urgent calls to exhausted staff to give up rest days and leave to enable them to sustain core services. Many more hospitals are having to ban visitors to try to reduce the spread of infection. 

‘NHS England is continuing to plan for surge capacity. Community and social care services, which were already massively overstretched, are at breaking point. 

‘In many areas, ambulance services are unable to meet their target response times. Primary care is having to add caring for Covid-19 patients and trying to keep them out of hospitals to driving the booster programme and dealing with unprecedented underlying demand which is driven in part by the millions of unwell people waiting for appointments and operations.’ 

Hospitals in Lincolnshire declared a staffing emergency amid a surge in Omicron-fuelled absences that has prompted ministers to draw up plans to recruit 20,000 reservists to help ease winter pressures.

Bosses at United Lincolnshire Hospitals warned that so many doctors and nurses were now absent from shifts that patient care was ‘compromised’, especially for stroke and heart patients.

Yesterday, it declared a ‘critical incident’, meaning hospital bosses are calling in support from nearby trusts to help manage the crisis. 

The trust, which runs four major hospitals in the county, saw 7.5 per cent of its 8,500 employees off sick on Boxing Day, according to the NHS’s latest workforce data which showed around 68,000 medics were absent nationwide. 

Top medic issues warning as number of NHS staff off sick hits 120,000 

NHS trusts have ‘never known’ such high staff absences, health chiefs have today warned, with 120,000 staff off work this week — half of them self-isolating or testing positive for Covid — and the Army now being brought in to plug the gaps.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA), says doctors and nurses are under ‘exceptional strain’ covering for colleagues at home.

But Boris Johnson, who sent soldiers to help NHS staff in London today, insists the health service can ‘ride out’ the Omicron wave, as infections and deaths both dropped yesterday.

Far fewer people are also being admitted to intensive care than in previous waves, while the length of time patients spend in hospital is also shortening. 

Meanwhile ministers have pushed back against claims hospitals are on the brink of collapse, with Environment Secretary George Eustice predicting the NHS’s acute problems will prove to be ‘quite short lived’.

They have also refused to follow in the footsteps of the US by cutting self-isolation periods to five days – a move some experts say will ease pressure on staffing issues. 

It comes as figures leaked to the Health Service Journal today reveal that staff absences at NHS England went from 80,000 on January 2 to just under 120,000 on Wednesday January 5 — 20 per cent higher than the peak last January.

Around 62,000 of the total 120,000 absences reported 48 hours ago were people who had tested positive for Covid or self-isolating. 

The highest rates of absence were in the Midlands, North East and Yorkshire, and the North West — where more than 10 per cent of all staff are off.

These trusts also already had the absence rates amongst staff before the pandemic. 

But leaked documents show the staffing crisis has only worsened in hospitals since then, with the figure jumping to 87,000 on New Year’s Eve. 

Overall, 110,000 employees — or one in ten — were off, including 50,000 suffering from Covid. Trusts have been told to brace for one in four being absent in the worst-case scenario.

Former vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi sought to calm concerns lst week, saying the NHS could get through the crisis because it was ‘very good’ at redeploying staff to the frontlines.

The now-Education Secretary told BBC Breakfast: ‘They now have an infrastructure to do that. [The NHS] is very good at sort of making sure that staff shortages are monitored and dealt with pretty well. They’ve done it over many years in winter when we’ve been, you know, had big flu viruses around.’ 

NHS trusts have drawn up plans to deal with staffing crises and pressures from the virus over the winter months, with staff set to be redeployed to the frontline in case of emergencies. Mini-‘Nightingale’ wards are also being set up as an insurance policy.

Several organisations — including trusts in London, Yorkshire and Essex — have now banned visitors for patients, with some saying Covid transmission on their wards had been linked to people visiting patients.

In a leaked document sent to staff, the United Hospitals Lincolnshire trust warned it needed to declare a ‘critical incident’ because absences sparked by Covid had left it ‘unable to maintain safe staffing levels’.

The document — leaked to local paper The Lincolnite — states: ‘An internal critical incident was declared across the Trust late yesterday and continues into today, due to extreme and unprecedented workforce shortages meaning that we are unable to maintain safe staffing levels.

‘This is resulting in compromised care across our hospitals, and an inability to maintain a number of key pathways, including those around stroke and cardiac care.’

Some 7.5 per cent of staff were off sick due to Covid and other absences on December 26.

But for comparison, at the same time last year almost 10 per cent of staff — 810 out of 8,500 — were away from wards. 

And there are currently 41 Covid patients on its wards, compared to almost 200 at the same time last year.

The Trust also declared a ‘critical’ incident at one of its hospitals last year.

Trust chief executive Mark Brassington said at the time that they had to take the step because of a surge in Covid admissions and a ‘staffing shortage in some areas’.

Its medical director Dr Colin Farquson said yesterday: ‘As a result of significant staffing pressures due to absence related to Covid, we are having to take additional steps to maintain services.

‘Our staff continue to work exceptionally hard and we would like to reassure our patients and the public that in spite of the challenges faced, essential services remain fully open for anyone who needs them, so people should continue to come forward for care.’ 

It was announced earlier this week that hundreds of troops are being sent into London hospitals to fill in for NHS staff who are isolating because of Omicron.

Meanwhile, social care isolation rules have been relaxed following concerns over staff being off sick and problems discharging patients from hospital (stock image)

The 200 soldiers, whose deployment was requested by NHS trusts, include 40 medics who will help directly with patient care on wards.

The remainder will assist with medical and general duties such as checking in patients and conducting basic health checks.

It is understood that the Department of Health submitted a request for additional MoD personnel on behalf of a number of hospital trusts in London which are experiencing staffing issues.

Several have declared ‘critical incidents’ in recent days, with health chiefs claiming that the service is under enormous strain. 

Ministers pushed back against claims hospitals were on the brink of collapse, with Environment Secretary George Eustice predicting that the NHS’s acute problems would prove to be ‘quite short lived’.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson said it was ‘not true’ that the health service did not have enough staff to cope and Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said that it was ‘not entirely unusual for hospitals to go critical over the winter’.

The troops have been told they will be working in hospitals for at least three weeks, while defence chiefs are also providing 32 personnel to join ambulance crews until the end of March.

Last night Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: ‘The men and women of our Armed Forces are once again stepping up to support their dedicated colleagues in the NHS.

‘They have shown their worth time and again throughout this pandemic, whether driving ambulances, administering vaccines or supporting patients and they should be proud of their contribution to this truly national effort.’

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