Forcing health staff to have a coronavirus vaccine should be delayed to prevent workforce shortages, the Royal College of GPs has said.
Frontline employees must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with two jabs by 1 April, meaning they must have had their first vaccine dose by 3 February.
Ahead of the deadline, NHS workers held protests in London and other cities across the country in opposition to the compulsory vaccination policy.
Loss of workers could have ‘massive consequences’
Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said compulsory vaccination for health professionals in England was “not the right way forward”.
While the majority of staff had been vaccinated, up to 80,000 (around 10%) had not been.
Mr Marshall told the BBC that losing so many workers from the frontline would have “massive consequences” for the NHS.
But a delay would allow time for booster jabs and a “sensible conversation” about whether vaccines should be mandatory at all, he added.
Deputy lead for the NHS COVID vaccination programme Dr Nikki Kanani said: “Mandatory vaccination is a government policy but as healthcare professionals we all have a duty to make sure that we are protected, to make sure that our colleagues and our patients are protected.
“I know that our teams will be doing everything they can to continue to have vaccine confidence building conversations and offering that all important vaccination to staff who are yet to have their first, second or their booster dose.”
When asked about staff protests against mandatory vaccination, she said: “I think it’s a really difficult time for some people to make a decision that is fundamentally about protecting them and their families and their communities.
“So, if you’re marching today, just take a moment, think about the people that you’ve been looking after who have experienced COVID, think about your colleagues who you’ve been working with, and think about the best way to make sure that we’re all protected, and that we’re all as safe as possible, because we are very much in this together and it’s down to us to look after each other too.”
Healthcare workers have a ‘professional responsibility’
Earlier this week, a number of Conservative MPs called on Boris Johnson to rethink plans to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for NHS workers.
Danny Kruger, Sir Desmond Swayne, and former ministers Esther McVey, Mark Harper and Andrew Murrison all called for the policy to be reviewed.
The prime minister said that the move was supported by the NHS, had increased vaccine uptake among NHS staff, and that healthcare workers had a “professional responsibility” to get the jab.
However, he added: “We will reflect on the way ahead. We don’t want to drive people out of the service.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Ensuring staff are vaccinated is the right thing to do to protect patients and those in care.”