The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and Royal College of Nursing (RCN) are calling for an immediate delay to government plans for mandatory Covid vaccination of NHS staff in England, fearing a ‘catastrophic impact’ on services.
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.
Now, two royal colleges are calling for the mandate to be suspended. Gill Walton, chief executive of the RCM, accused ministers of opening a “Pandora’s box” of unforeseen consequences: “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.
The government has opened a Pandora’s box of unforeseen consequences” – Gill Walton, Royal College of Midwives
“However, we do not believe mandatory vaccination is the correct approach.”
“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.”
Covid staff shortages
Javid has shown no sign of relenting, saying that 94% of health professionals had so far been vaccinated. It is thought, however, that 73,000 staff have not been vaccinated.
The BBC spoke to a midwife at an unnamed maternity unit where about 40 midwives are refusing to be unvaccinated and who face being dismissed on 1 April. One midwife, Mia, told Women’s Hour on Radio 4 that she had worked all the way through the pandemic and was devastated to be facing the prospect of losing her job. She said: “Being a midwife is not my job, it’s who I am. We are very united in that we don’t want to be forced into having the vaccine by the threat of losing our jobs.”
The midwife added she was not anti-vaccine whatsoever but was following government guidelines concerning an undisclosed medical condition she had had. She said that she had caught Covid last year and still had antibodies.
Mia explained that “body autonomy” was the issue for many of her colleagues; although she conceded that most had taken the vaccine without question.
She said maternity services were seeing the worst staffing crisis in her 23-year career. Units were often having to close and suspend services in order to redeploy midwives to areas of the highest workload. Staffing was short by 30% on some shifts, she added, and services in some areas may collapse in some of the areas of the country after 1 April.
“I want them to abolish this mandate; I don’t know how we are going to manage, we are almost at breaking point. More and more this to the detriment of our physical and mental wellbeing. Mandating will make an already dire situation critical.”
“We are devastated that we will have to walk away from our vocations,” said Mia.
The RCM said maternity services were already subject to chronic understaffing, with estimates putting the shortfall at about 2,000 midwives in England.
Mandating vaccines as a condition of employment risked further marginalising those who remain unvaccinated, the RCN said, rather than support them to access vaccination. In a statement the college said: “We have also expressed our concerns around the potential impact of mandatory vaccination on many levels, not least on retention of staff which will put further pressure on service capacity during a highly pressured time for the health and care services.”