Unvaccinated healthcare staff in England face being sacked without an exit payment, an official document shows.
Frontline staff must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 with two jabs by April 1 – meaning they must have had their first vaccine on February 3.
Healthcare employers have been told that from the following day – February 4 – unjabbed staff should be invited to a meeting and told that a potential outcome may be dismissal.
The guidance, published on Friday and reported on by the Health Service Journal (HSJ), is for the implementation of Vaccination as a Condition of Deployment (VCOD).
The 24-page document says: “It is important to note this is not a redundancy exercise. In the context of the regulations, there is no diminishment or cessation of work of a particular kind.
“Employers will not be concerned with finding ‘suitable alternative employment’ and there will be no redundancy entitlements, including payments, whether statutory or contractual, triggered by this process.
“The redeployment or dismissal of workers is determined by the introduction of the regulations and an individual’s decision to remain unvaccinated.
“Whilst organisations are encouraged to explore redeployment, the general principles which apply in a redundancy exercise are not applicable here, and it is important that managers are aware of this.”
The guidance says employers should engage and work in collaboration with their trade union or staff side representatives, as to the formal measures being taken “in respect of redeployment processes and potential dismissals of staff due to VCOD”.
Alternative options potentially available to an unvaccinated staff member – such as any possible adjustments to their current role, restrictions to duties or redeployment opportunities available – should also be explored, the document says.
It adds: “From 4 February 2022, staff who remain unvaccinated (excluding those who are exempt) should be invited to a formal meeting chaired by an appropriate manager, in which they are notified that a potential outcome of the meeting may be dismissal. Meetings may take place in person or virtually.”
The document comes after leading midwives called for an “immediate delay” to plans for mandatory Covid-19 jabs for frontline health workers.
The Royal College of Midwives said that the policy could have a significant impact on maternity services, arguing this week that current staff absences are at their highest level since the pandemic began.
The college said there are “chronic understaffing” issues in the sector with an estimated shortfall of around 2,000 midwives, adding that it feared the policy will see staff levels fall further still.
NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: “The NHS has always been clear that the life-saving Covid vaccination is the best protection against the virus, and while it is currently a recommendation for health and care staff to be vaccinated, it will soon become a legal requirement.
“The overwhelming majority of staff in NHS organisations, nine in ten, have already had their second jab, and NHS employers will continue to support and encourage staff who have not yet been vaccinated to take up the offer of the 1st and 2nd doses ahead of the April 1, when regulations come into effect.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said health and social care workers are “responsible for looking after some of the most vulnerable people in society, many of whom are more likely to suffer serious health consequences if exposed to the virus”.
The spokesperson added: “This is about patient safety, and ensuring people in hospital or care have as much protection as possible. Vaccinations remain our best defence against Covid-19.”