Matt Hancock: Jab NHS staff before winter hits

NHS workers should be legally required to get Covid vaccinations before the winter, Matt Hancock, the former health secretary, has said.

In his first major policy intervention since leaving the Government, Mr Hancock – writing in The Telegraph – warned ministers against delaying mandatory jabs for nurses and doctors.

His comments will increase pressure on the Government to announce that the law will be changed within weeks to require Covid jabs for the 1.45million NHS staff in England.

"Having looked at all the evidence, I am convinced we must require vaccination for everyone who works not just in social care but the NHS – and get it in place as fast as possible," Mr Hancock wrote.

Ministers are widely expected to be preparing to say the requirement will only be adopted in spring next year – too late to impact the Covid pressures expected in the next few months.

NHS industry bodies and Labour front benchers have argued that pushing through the change in the coming weeks would risk a dangerous exodus of NHS staff over the winter.

Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, on Sunday warned that if the policy is wrongly adopted then "we risk a significant loss of a significant number of staff".

The law has already been changed to mandate Covid vaccinations for care workers in England, with the requirement set to come into effect on Thursday. 

There were reports this weekend that some care home staff reluctant to get vaccinated are switching to work for the NHS, which does not yet have the legal requirement, instead.

In his article, Mr Hancock – who was in post when mandatory vaccines for care workers were announced – explained why he believes it should also apply to NHS workers.

He pointed to the example of France – where the proportion of healthcare workers who were jabbed jumped from two-thirds to 99 per cent after vaccines were required – to show that the policy can work.  

"To me, the logic is crystal clear," the former health secretary wrote. "Medicine is founded on science – and the science of the Covid vaccine is comprehensively proven. Mandating the use of the best science isn’t controversial, it’s common sense.

"There are some people who say this isn’t the way we do things in Britain. But we already mandate vaccination against Hepatitis B for doctors. The British historic precedents for compulsory vaccination go back to the 1850s."

Mr Hancock noted that nine in 10 NHS workers have been double vaccinated – but he argued that, while "wonderful", the figure was not high enough and called getting jabbed a "moral duty".

He also made a plea to those sceptical about the policy to consider people in hospital who may be vulnerable to the virus because they are undergoing treatment for cancer.

"If you’re still not convinced, consider this. Our hospitals treat thousands of people who are not just vulnerable to Covid but who have no defences at all because of the very treatment they are receiving from that hospital," he wrote.

"Imagine the cancer patient, already battling another deadly disease, being cared for by a nurse. Who can put their hand on their heart and say they’d be happy to tell that patient their nurse could have the vaccine, but has chosen against all scientific and clinical advice to ignore it?

"So, as we prepare to face a difficult winter, let’s use all the tools that we have to save lives."

Is the UK on track to hit vaccination targets?

Mr Hancock has made few public interventions since quitting as health secretary in June, when he admitted breaking social distancing rules after being caught having an affair. He held the health brief for the preceding three years, meaning he played a central role in the Government’s response to the Covid pandemic.

There has been speculation that the Government has pushed back plans to announce its approach to mandating Covid jabs for the NHS amid internal debate about the policy.

A consultation on the plans for England could be announced as soon as Tuesday, before Parliament breaks for a recess. The approach on mandated jabs for NHS workers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland would be taken by devolved administrations given that healthcare is a devolved policy area.

Mr Hopson outlined the concerns felt by parts of the NHS about the policy in a pre-recorded Times Radio interview which was aired on Sunday, saying: "The bit that we’ve asked the Government to recognise is that there are two risks here.

"One risk is obviously the cross-infection risk where infected staff do infect patients or visitors or other staff, and we absolutely recognise there is a logic to move to mandatory vaccination. 

"But the bit that’s absolutely vital – and we have seen this in social care – is that if we get this wrong then what will happen is we risk a significant loss of a significant number of staff, just at the point when we cannot afford to lose those staff."

Mr Hancock argued that the experience of France, which mandated Covid jabs for NHS workers in the summer, showed the mass departure of workers may not happen.

"In France, in July, less than two thirds of healthcare workers were vaccinated. By October, just three months after the introduction of mandatory vaccination, 99 per cent were," he wrote. "Then there are those who say that too many staff would quit. Never mind that these same claims made in France turned out to be unfounded, with only 0.1 per cent leaving their posts."

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