Covid-19: Requirements for Employees to be Vaccinated

Paula Barker Excerpts
Monday 24th January 2022

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) on securing this incredibly important debate and on his superb contribution.

We are sleepwalking into a crisis. The motives for making vaccination mandatory for NHS staff may have come from an honest and sincere place, but one issue is not properly resolved if that inadvertently creates a bigger problem elsewhere. So polarising is this debate that we often find ourselves qualifying our support for the vaccination programme. I am double-jabbed and boosted, and I encourage my constituents who are staff in the NHS to get vaccinated if they have not done so. However, this can be done through encouragement and consent; it does not have to be mandatory.

I laid out my concerns to the Health Secretary when the statutory instrument was considered in the Chamber. I said then that it would cause a workforce crisis; I said then that such a practice should not be applied to the law, as it was in the case of hepatitis B, as hon. Members have already mentioned. Increasing vaccine uptake should be built on consent and negotiation with those who have not yet been jabbed. I also said in December that forcing people to get vaccinated when they have already given blood, sweat and tears during the most dangerous periods of the pandemic is not only immoral but illogical.

The founding principles of the NHS were built on consent. This legislation flies in the face of that. We clapped for the workers on a Thursday evening at the start of the pandemic. Those brave souls put their lives at risk because most of them did not have the appropriate PPE—the Government failed them on that, yet again. A variation of either delaying, pausing or scrapping this move entirely is the position of the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Nursing, the British Medical Association, Unison, Unite the union and other organisations that represent most NHS staff. Like them, I know that creating a workforce crisis when our NHS can least afford it, in its 74-year history, is reckless. It will be on this House if such a crisis comes to pass.

What is really interesting is that the Health Secretary believes that these people are such a danger to the public that, in December, he did not want them to immediately be moved from the workplace. No, he wanted them to get us through the Christmas crisis in the NHS and then he would thank them by sacking them on 1 April. It is morally reprehensible.

We do not know what the impact of losing up to 8% of its workforce will be on the NHS, because the final number is yet to be revealed. The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raised credible and critical concerns that have had no impact whatsoever. There has been no thorough impact assessment from the Department and there is a lack of clarity on whether the benefits of this measure are proportionate to the NHS losing up to 126,000 staff members and then spending over a quarter of a billion pounds on recruitment to fill the resulting vacancies.

I did not come into politics to sack thousands of health workers on the back of an unprecedented public health disaster, but that is what this Government are going to do—this Government who disregarded their own rule book throughout the pandemic; who had “bring your own bottle” parties; who are led by a Prime Minister who claims he did not know whether it was a party or not, and who has come to this House and circumvented answering the most precise questions, while the rest of us obeyed the rules and while care and NHS workers worked tirelessly to save people’s lives. Those health workers are now going to be sacked. It is absolutely disgraceful.

Opposition parties should play no part in taking this sledgehammer to our national health service—and that is exactly what this will be. It is morally reprehensible and I implore the Government to change course on this, because it is not too late.

--- Later in debate ---
Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I will come to the issue of NHS workers in a second, and show what we are doing regarding non-patient-facing NHS workers and the moves we are taking to help people get vaccinated.

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker
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I am interested in what the Minister is saying, but he has just referred to an economic argument. Does he not agree that sacking up to 126,000 NHS staff would have a severely detrimental effect on our economy?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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My economic argument was not specifically about the NHS. It was about the fact that vaccines are the way out of this, to get back to a sense of normality—a new normal, whatever that normal is—and allow people to protect businesses, livelihoods and jobs around the country as best we can. Clearly, the best way to work with the NHS is to make sure we can work with those who are unvaccinated to get them vaccinated and, eventually, boosted.