GP practice staff are resigning or looking for other employment ahead of the Covid vaccine mandate coming into force in England, according to LMCs.
It comes amid reports that the Government is considering delaying the requirement, but the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) indicated to Pulse that there are no plans to change the policy.
Londonwide LMCs said it is ‘already hearing’ that local practice staff are ‘resigning’ over the requirement, which is due to come into force from 1 April.
An update to practices earlier this month said: ‘We are already hearing reports of staff members resigning in view of these proposed regulatory changes.
‘There is no need for this to occur at present. Should the regulations change as proposed and staff members refuse to be vaccinated and are not exempt there will be ample time for them to formally resign from their position.’
It added that the LMCs’ understanding is that once the legal requirement comes into force, employers will need to consider options for the redeployment of unvaccinated employees that are not clinically exempt.
However, ‘if such a post cannot be found the worker will in effect be resigning from their position’, it said.
London practices are already struggling with workforce shortages, with an LMC workforce survey in December revealing that ‘almost two-thirds’ have a vacancy for ‘one or more’ members of staff.
Elsewhere in the country, Walsall LMC has also been informed it is ‘already happening’ that local practice staff are ‘moving from the NHS to other services’ where vaccination is not a requirement.
LMC medical secretary Dr Uzma Ahmad told Pulse: ‘I am hearing that the staff that are not willing to be vaccinated are looking for jobs outside the NHS. I have been made aware of a couple but of course we have to watch in the next few weeks or so if anything changes.’
Dr Ahmad added: ‘For a very small team, one or two staff leaving for that reason is going to be very challenging [and] dismantle the whole team – especially if Covid is going on as well and there are other absences that go on with the winter pressures.
‘It’s really going to be very challenging in the next couple of months.’
The Government has estimated that England’s Covid vaccine mandate could mean 3,000 GP staff have to be removed from patient-facing roles.
When asked whether it was considering delaying, relaxing or scrapping the requirement – as was reported over the weekend – a DHSC spokesperson said its position has not changed.
They told Pulse on background that there are no plans to change the policy’s implementation dates.
In a statement, they added: ‘Health and social care workers look after the most vulnerable people in society, who could face serious health consequences if exposed to the virus.
‘Ensuring staff are vaccinated is the right thing to do to protect patients and those in care. The vast majority of NHS staff have had the vaccine which is our best defence against Covid-19.’
A minister also reiterated to MPs yesterday that the Government ‘remains committed to bringing these measures in on 1 April’ for the NHS.
Parliamentary under-secretary for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Paul Scully made the comments in a debate on mandatory vaccination. This was triggered by a petition against employers being allowed to mandate Covid vaccination, signed by 220,000 people.
Meanwhile, the RCGP has said it supports calls for the requirement to be postponed.
In a statement published over the weekend, RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: ‘The College has always been opposed to mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations as a term of employment.
‘Our view is that informed and educated choice about health interventions would be more beneficial long-term than mandation, which risks leading to resentment and mistrust.’
The RCGP is concerned about the ‘significant workforce implications at a time when general practice and the wider NHS is experiencing enormous workforce and workload pressures’, he added.
‘We simply can’t afford to lose highly-trained staff in general practice when we need as many as possible delivering patient care’, he said.
Professor Marshall added: ‘A delay to the vaccination deadline that has been set would allow more time to address concerns and hesitancies that unvaccinated people working in the NHS may have about getting vaccinated and encourage them to think otherwise.
‘It also creates a window of opportunity to have a national conversation about whether mandating Covid-19 vaccinations is necessary.’
Meanwhile, RCGP president Professor Dame Clare Gerada defended the stance against criticism on Twitter, saying there are ‘risks as well as benefits and leaders have to explain both’.
It is developing a set of FAQs that will ‘address redeployment, termination and implications for practices’, due to be published this week.
NHS England has advised GPs to ‘seek their own legal advice’ on redeploying and dismissing unvaccinated staff.
It has also encouraged GPs to have ‘one-to-one’ conversations with staff who have refused Covid jabs to identify ‘reasons for vaccine hesitancy’.
About the vaccine mandate
Thursday 6 January was the start of the 12-week grace period to ensure unvaccinated individuals get their first dose by 3 February and can receive their second dose by the 1 April 2022 deadline.
Currently, two Covid jabs are considered ‘fully vaccinated’ for the mandate, but NHS England has said this is due to include the requirement of a booster jab in the future.
The mandate extends to all non-clinical workers in direct contact with patients, meaning GPs will be banned from deploying unvaccinated public-facing staff.
It will be for the CQC to ensure compliance and in the worst-case scenarios, they could withdraw registration for practices with unvaccinated staff – effectively shutting them down.
Some GP leaders have expressed concern that the mandate may hit the GP practice workforce.
There are ‘no plans’ for Scottish and Welsh Governments to introduce a Covid or flu vaccine mandate for healthcare staff.
For England, flu vaccination mandates have not been ruled out for future winters.
Northern Ireland is planning a public consultation on making Covid vaccination compulsory for ‘new recruits’, but there is still no date for the consultation.