Staff could face dismissal under the new Vaccination as a Condition of Deployment (VCOD) rules.
NHS England has published new guidance that outlines how NHS trusts should deal with unvaccinated staff.
From April, all health and social care workers, in England who have “direct contact with patients” are required to have a minimum of two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine under the new Vaccination as a Condition of Deployment (VCOD) rules.
Staff with medical exemptions, have taken part in a vaccine trial, or are pregnant and have a temporary exemption will be excluded from the new rules.
Reports indicate that as many as 73,000 NHS staff in England could lose their jobs.
The 24-page document from NHS England and NHS Improvement provides NHS organisations outlines the formal process of either redeploying or dismissing staff who refuse to be vaccinated.
From 4 February 2022, staff who remain unvaccinated should be invited to a formal meeting in which they are notified that a potential outcome of the meeting may be dismissal.
The document explains that by 31 March 2022 staff should either be permanently or temporarily redeployed into a non-patient-facing role, their existing patient-facing role be “reconfigured” into non-patient-facing, or be dismissed by their employer on that date.
The guidance notes that; “Every effort should be made to redeploy staff within their notice period up to and including their last date of service”. However, most staff will not be subject to the usual pay protection from mandated redeployment.
Several NHS trusts have already warned staff that redeployment opportunities may be limited given the number of workers refusing the vaccine.
The document continues; “if it’s not feasible to implement alternative solutions, staff will be taken through a formal process to dismissal.”
“As previously detailed, the fair reason for dismissal will be on the grounds of a contravention of statutory restriction…”
The guidance is clear that employers should take every opportunity to educate staff and establish the reasons behind vaccine hesitancy. However under the rules, if an agreement between the employee and employer cannot be reached their employment would terminate on 31 March 2022.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned that dismissing staff when the health service faces such chronic staffing shortages is an act of “self-sabotage”.
Pat Cullen, General Secretary and Chief Executive of the RCN, said: “Nothing matters more to a nurse than caring for their patients safely. Right now, our members are telling me they can’t always do that.
“We are calling on the Government to recognise this risk and delay a move which by its own calculations looks to backfire. To dismiss valued nursing staff during this crisis would be an act of self-sabotage.
“Encouraging people to get vaccinated is the best way to boost vaccine take-up.
“Nursing staff, who are well-placed to understand people’s concerns and are highly trusted by them, have led the COVID-19 vaccination programme and have a key role to play in addressing any concerns people may have about being vaccinated.”