‘We need to rethink ‘no jab, no job’ policy'

FORUM: Professor Katherine Woolf warns strategy should be rethought

Monday, 29th November 2021 — By Professor Katherine Woolf

Untitled design(4)

Professor Katherine Woolf

THE NHS has been struggling for years with chronic underfunding and staff shortages, and Covid-19 has only made matters worse. The health secretary is now warning that NHS waiting lists will grow to 13 million and there are horrific stories of patients dying in ambulances outside full hospitals. Last week NHS bosses warned that patients’ lives are at risk.

NHS workers are already overstretched and exhausted from working through the pandemic, but we need at least 84,000 more healthcare staff to join the NHS, as well as encouraging those who already work there to stay. The last thing we need is to lose tens of thousands of NHS staff, yet under a new government policy that makes Covid-19 vaccines compulsory for frontline health workers, that’s what will happen.

It’s already happening in social care: the health secretary set a deadline of November 11 for all social care staff to be vaccinated, and last week he told us that 32,000 will lose their jobs. Care homes are turning away residents because they don’t have staff to look after them. London and other areas with lower vaccination rates will feel the brunt as staff leave and others are put off from joining by a “no jab, no job” policy.

Let me be clear: I strongly believe everyone should get vaccinated if they can. Over the past year I’ve been volunteer­ing as a Covid-19 vaccinator (One million vaccine jabs in just seven days, New Journal, May 13) as well as studying the impact of the pandemic on healthcare workers with the UK-REACH study. But I’ve now come to the painful conclusion that making vaccination compulsory for healthcare staff will harm more patients than it helps.

So what should be done? Our findings indicate that compulsory vaccination will further erode trust in those who are already wary of vaccines, as well as among their family and wider communities.

We’ve found that healthcare workers tend to have just the same worries about vaccines as the general population, but they can be reassured with accurate information from co-workers.

To help this happen, we’re working with healthcare staff to develop a short online game NHS workers can play on their phones to improve knowledge and trust in Covid-19 vaccines.

Other solutions include regular testing, good access to effective personal protective equipment (PPE), and making sure staff with symptoms can take time off, all of which are good practice anyway when even fully-vaccinated staff can catch and pass on Covid-19. We also need to give our stalling vaccine programme a jump-start by helping more eligible people get their booster doses, and encouraging more young people to get first and second doses. Making mask-wearing compulsory in all enclosed public places will also help protect patients.

While a “no jab, no job” policy for frontline healthcare workers may seem like a no-brainer, I believe the government needs to rethink its strategy before more lives are lost.

Katherine Woolf is Professor of Medical Education Research at UCL

Related Articles