Covid-19: Requirements for Employees to be Vaccinated

Margaret Greenwood Excerpts
Monday 24th January 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Margaret Greenwood Portrait Margaret Greenwood (Wirral West) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this evening, Mr Paisley. The petition calls for it to be made illegal for any employer to mandate vaccination for its employees. It states:

“This should apply to all public sector (including the NHS, armed forces, care workers), third sector and all private sector.”

At the time of this debate, more than 218,000 people have signed the petition; of those, more than 44,000 have done so in the last four days, which shows what a live issue this is and how strongly people feel about it.

As we know, it is the Government’s intention to make covid-19 vaccination a requirement for all health and care workers in England from 1 April 2022. I would like to state at the outset that I believe it is incredibly important for people to get vaccinated against covid-19 to protect themselves and those around them. However, if people are hesitant or frightened, they should not be pressured into receiving the vaccine. The Government should be doing far more to tackle misinformation and promote the benefits of taking up the vaccine to NHS and care staff who are concerned about it. The Government should focus on driving up vaccination rates through persuasion, education and support.

Forcing the vaccine on people is coercive and will do nothing to build the trust that is needed. It is an issue of employment rights and—more than that—of human rights. It is about freedom of choice—a basic fundamental principle.

There is already a staffing crisis in the NHS. The latest figures show that there are more than 90,000 full-time equivalent vacancies in England’s NHS. The Government’s impact statement on making vaccination a condition of deployment in the health and wider social care sectors estimates that 88,000 NHS and independent health sector workers, and 35,000 workers in domiciliary care and other care services, will not have fulfilled the condition of deployment by the end of the grace period.

The warnings from the sector have been clear. The Royal College of General Practitioners has described compulsory vaccination for health professionals in England as

“not the right way forward,”

and it said over the weekend that there will be “massive consequences” for the NHS if unvaccinated staff are taken out of frontline roles by 1 April. I hope the Government are listening. The NHS Confederation has said that mandatory vaccination will reduce frontline NHS staff numbers even further and lead to more gaps in capacity, at a time of intense pressure and patient demand. I know what a serious issue that is, having spoken to members of the Royal College of Nursing about the pressure that they are under due to the lack of staffing.

The Government are making a major crisis even worse by making it mandatory for NHS staff to be vaccinated. A number of constituents who have written to me are dedicated NHS staff with many years of experience. One wrote of how she had worked throughout the pandemic, at times with inadequate personal protective equipment. Sometimes she worked 60 or 70-hour weeks, and she feels greatly aggrieved about how the Government are now treating her.

Nurses facing a choice between losing their job or having a vaccine that they are worried about taking have written to me about their sleepless nights and the huge stress that the situation is putting on them and their families. Some say that they are supportive of the vaccine but, for medical reasons, are fearful of having it; however, they find that they do not meet the exemption criteria. One constituent expressed her concern that the Government website states:

“The clinical decision on your medical exemption is final. You can’t appeal the decision.”

I would be grateful if the Minister could let me know whether the Government will revisit that on behalf of my constituent and others in her situation.

Ministers really should listen to the voices of the hundreds of thousands of people, including hundreds in my constituency of Wirral West, who have signed the petition that we are discussing. The Government should not be pursuing policies that could potentially put more than 120,000 health and care staff out of work, exacerbating the already desperate situation in which the NHS and the care sector find themselves. Nurses, care workers and doctors are highly dedicated professionals who are trained in infection control. Their sense of vocation and selflessness during the pandemic has been, and continues to be, inspirational. Will the Government change course, protect these professions and respect the human rights of working people?