A mandate requiring all NHS and social care workers in England to be vaccinated against Covid-19 is set to be scrapped, reports suggest.
Health workers were meant to be fully vaccinated by April but the Health Secretary has been facing growing pressure to scrap the rule.
There have been concerns that the rule could lead to a major staffing crisis in the sector due to the number of workers refusing to be vaccinated.
The huge U-turn on the policy is set to be decided during a meeting between Sajid Javid and fellow ministers on the Covid-Operations Cabinet committee on Monday (31 January).
Policy change due to ‘milder Omicron’
Multiple government sources have reportedly said that the government is ending the policy because the Omicron variant is milder than previous Covid-19 strains.
It comes after the Department of Health and Social Care said last Monday there were no plans to change the policy following a number of reports suggesting ministers were considering an 11th-hour delay.
However, Mr Javid said on Tuesday that the rule was being “kept under review” and it was “right” to reflect on Covid-19 policies, but he added that frontline NHS staff should get vaccinated as a “professional duty”.
He went on to say that plans for compulsory jabs were made when the Delta variant of the virus was the dominant strain in the UK, but now “almost all” cases are the Omicron variant which is “intrinsically less severe”.
Conservative MPs welcomed the reports of a U-turn on Sunday with Andrew Rosindell tweeting that Mr Javid had made “the right decision”.
He said: “These free-thinking NHS workers’ jobs are saved and quite right too.
“Well done all those who had the courage to stand up for the values of a free society!”
Meanwhile, Tory MP for Forest of Dean Mark Harper called the reported decision a “huge win”.
He tweeted: “My backbench colleagues & I have been pushing hard to spare the sack for tens of thousands of NHS & care workers.
“It beggars belief that the PM & Health Secretary kept insisting on bulldozing this policy through, despite warnings of staff shortages, for so long.”
When would the policy take effect?
The policy would mean frontline staff in the NHS and registered social care settings must have their first vaccine doses by 3 February and must be double jabbed before the policy kicks in on 1 April.
However, there have been protests and calls for the policy to be delayed amid fears it could force thousands of frontline workers to leave their jobs at a time when patient demand is high.
Both the Royal College of GPs and the Royal College of Nursing have urged for the deadline to be pushed back.
Meanwhile, the British Medical Association called for an “urgent impact assessment” on how the policy would affect staffing numbers.
Patricia Marquis, RCN director of England, said: “If these reports are correct, this climbdown by government is long overdue.
“Vaccination is hugely important but this was the wrong policy, especially as it added to the current pressure on NHS and care services.
“It was never in the interests of patient safety to threaten tens of thousands with dismissal in the middle of staffing crisis.
“We will continue to support government and employers to make the case for vaccination.”