Bungled communication has dented NHS morale

COMMENT: How did the vaccine take-up become such a divisive issue in hospitals?

Thursday, 3rd February

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‘One in five staff in hospitals serving Camden are still refusing the jab’

THE shambles going on in public life right now is so relentless that it may have been easy to miss the government’s U-turn on mandatory hospital worker vaccination.

Sajid Javid’s announcement on Tuesday will have been of critical importance to thousands of staff, and also managers, in our three main hospitals.

More than 5,000 staff had been expecting to receive notice that their NHS contracts were being terminated yesterday (Wednesday).

The British Medical Association, Royal College of Nursing and all the health unions had criticised the scheme, warning it would only entrench vaccine hesitancy.

Despite their recommendations to scrap the scheme, the government, supported by the Opposition, pushed ahead regardless.

A slim majority in a major poll of thousands of nurses, however, said they did not agree with the government on the U-turn.

How did the vaccine take-up become such a divisive issue in hospitals?

There are many issues at play but it mainly boils down to lack of trust in management and the government.

Despite all the rainbows and positive PR, the NHS is for many an unhappy place to be. Rigidly hierarchical, staff report top-down bullying and harassment with frightening regularity.

Boris Johnson talks about the great success of the vaccination programme, and no doubt it has succeeded where other countries have failed. But there remain large sections of society somewhere between being unbothered to militantly opposed to it.

There is a basic lesson here in the art of public communication: if people don’t listen to you, the answer is not to shout louder and louder until they do.

One in five staff in hospitals serving Camden, two years after the pandemic began, are still refusing the jab.

At the end of last week, a group of Royal Free admin and secretaries sent a file to our office listing their concerns and appealing for help. It told how they felt “too scared to speak out” and felt as if they were “caught in a dilemma”.

Hundreds of hospital workers had quit in the months leading up to the February 3 deadline. Hospital managers wasted countless precious hours in talks with union officials and worried staff in recent weeks over the looming deadline.

Everyone should get the vaccine if they can. Health workers especially. But this programme has been handled badly. And resentment from it is likely to linger on long after Covid is gone.

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