Calls for immediate delay to mandatory NHS vaccination plans

The Royal College of Midwives is calling for an immediate delay to government plans for mandatory Covid vaccination of NHS staff in England, fearing a catastrophic impact on maternity services.

Following new regulations introduced last year, all patient-facing NHS staff must be fully vaccinated by 1 April 2022, unless exempt, or risk losing their jobs. That means that staff who are currently unvaccinated would need to have had their first dose by 3 February to comply.

Maternity services are already subject to chronic understaffing, with estimates putting the shortfall at around 2,000 midwives. These shortages have been worsened by the impact of the pandemic with staff off sick, self-isolating or simply burnt out as a result of the pressure. The RCM fears that implementing mandatory vaccinations and the subsequent loss of unvaccinated staff could plunge maternity services and the wider NHS into meltdown.

Gill Walton, chief executive of the RCM, said: “Since the arrival of the Covid-19 vaccine the RCM has been urging its eligible midwife and maternity support worker members to have the jab to protect themselves, their families and the women and families they care for. We believe that it’s the right thing to do and we believe in the science. However, we do not believe mandatory vaccination is the correct approach, and actively argued against the proposal. Levels of vaccination in the NHS are high and rising and we should be using discussion and education to increase vaccination among NHS staff, not the hammer blow of mandating it.  

“I appeal to the Health Secretary to reconsider his decision and to delay the implementation. Throughout the pandemic, maternity staff have fought to keep services open and to provide the best care to women and families. It has been unrelenting and so it’s no surprise that staff absence is currently at its highest in the pandemic so far. Moving forward with mandatory vaccination could only see staffing levels fall further. The government has opened a Pandora’s Box of unforeseen consequences – but there is an opportunity now to close it. We are urging Sajid Javid to do just that.”