In November 2021, the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) published its formal response to the Government’s decision to move to mandatory Covid-19 vaccines for all NHS staff. In short, they are strongly opposed.
Whilst noting that the vaccine is the most important tool in protecting people from the virus and further urging all health and care professionals to be vaccinated unless there is a medical reason why they should not, it stated that:
“RCGP believes that informed and educated choices about health interventions are more beneficial long-term than enforced interventions, which risks leading to resentment and mistrust.
The move to mandatory vaccination is particularly concerning at a time when we need as many people as possible working in general practice and across the health and care sectors delivering essential patient care and services”.
The RCGP, the professional membership body for GPs in the UK, is not alone in this position.
- The Royal College of Nursing responded to the Government’s consultation by stating that “making vaccine mandatory risks creating division where there should be conversation instead… support and education would be more effective in increasing uptake in health and care staff”.
- Likewise, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain confirmed that it did “not agree with making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory, as informed and educated choices about health interventions would be more beneficial long-term than enforcing them”.
- Supporting this, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges considered that making the “vaccination mandatory is not sensible or necessary… in practical terms mandatory vaccinations will cause real difficulties with unnecessary disputes and arguments at local and National level. The danger is that individual arguments become a distraction from the core issues of getting as many of the population vaccinated as possible”.
It is not the intention of any of these bodies to discourage vaccination, but instead to shine a light on the impact that this decision will have on staff, at a time when a myriad of negative impacts are already being felt by the health and care sector.
As the RCGP Chair Martin Marshall noted in his speech to the Annual RCGP Conference in October 2021, GPs have for many years been under significant and increasing pressures to address the needs of their diverse populations, whilst more recently also facing unfounded criticism from the Government and media over face-to-face appointments and working hours.
The media spotlight, potentially understandably, focused on the NHS during the early stages of the pandemic. GPs meanwhile were redesigning their systems to increase virtual appointments and simultaneously continuing to deal with the numerous and wide-ranging day-to-day problems of their populations; which now included the specific issues impacting those shielding, those in care homes, those at end of life, and latterly those suffering the effects of long Covid.
There was a sigh of relief when CQC agreed to a temporary suspension of inspections of GP practices in England in 2020, and the move towards a ‘lighter touch’ appraisal system. This was certainly a welcome move. However, it does little alleviate the increasing burden on GPs that has only worsened with the shrinking of the GP workforce:
- A 2019 survey, carried out by sector magazine Pulse, found that more than 50% of GPs are planning to stop practising before they hit retirement.
- A 2021 survey of RCGP members found 8% of respondents planned to leave in the next year, 15% in the next two and 34% in the next five years; approximately half due to retirement and a quarter naming stress and burnout as the reason for leaving.
- Last month, Sajid Javid confirmed that the 2019 election manifesto promise of increasing the number of GPs in England by 6000 by 2025 was “clearly not” on track due to the number of GPs retiring early.
The mandatory vaccination of staff in GP practices does not, of course, only apply to GPs themselves, but to the entire front-facing workforce of the practice. It is unsurprising that the RCGP are concerned about the move to mandatory vaccination, at a time that they can ill afford to lose the staff that they have. More must therefore be done to support GP practices to continue to meet the needs of their communities now that vaccination has become mandatory. The RCGP is a strong voice in the sector; for GPs’ sakes, they hope that the Government are listening.
If you are a member of a GP practice and would like advice on the impact of mandatory vaccinations and all other matters affecting the running of your practice, our specialist teams of Care and Employment solicitors are available to assist you.
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