THE Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, has called on the Government to delay the introduction of compulsory double Covid-19 vaccination for health workers.
She said the move could hit maternity services in the capital with the loss of 12.5 per cent of its midwives, putting at risk the lives of pregnant women and their babies.
Front-line health-care workers will need to have had a first dose by 3 February to be fully vaccinated by the 1 April deadline. Those who refuse to disclose their vaccination status will be treated as if they were unvaccinated.
Bishop Mullally’s remarks came in a House of Lords debate on Thursday responding to the Prime Minister’s announcement of relaxations in anti-Covid measures. She said: “Such a loss of staff may be thought to be justified, were it not for the case that two doses of the vaccine are not understood to protect against the Omicron variant of Covid-19. We shall lose precious midwives to implement a policy that has been superseded by the evolution of the virus.
“Will Her Majesty’s Government put the implementation of existing legislation on hold, given that it may now lead only to harm and not the good that it was designed to promote?”
Bishop Mullally, who was formerly the UK’s Chief Nursing Officer and chairs the Church’s Covid Recovery Group, was echoing the views of groups such as the Royal College of Nursing, which want a delay in the 1 April deadline. She said: “I would strongly encourage everyone, including NHS staff and health-care workers, to get fully vaccinated.
“However, having heard from midwives myself this week, I can see the anxiety that the requirement for mandatory vaccination is causing, as well as the potential risks to the heath service and its patients.”
She was supported by the Conservative peer Baroness Altmann, who said that the country was in danger of “shooting itself in the foot if we get rid of loyal staff, and indeed many staff who are not even patient-facing, at a time when we face such a crisis in the NHS. There has already been a significant impact in care homes and the social-care sector.”
The Government’s spokeswoman, Baroness Evans of Bowes Park, Leader of the House, said that unvaccinated health-care workers increase the risk to themselves, their colleagues, and the vulnerable people in their care. “It is our responsibility to help give everyone the best possible protection,” she said. “The vast majority of NHS staff has been vaccinated — nine in ten have already had their second jabs.
“The NHS will continue to support and encourage staff who have not yet been vaccinated to take up the offer. Since we first consulted on this proposal, the proportion of NHS Trust health-care workers who have been vaccinated with a first dose has increased from 92 per cent to 94 percent: an increase of 75,000.”
Several peers also expressed concern at the ending of compulsory mask-wearing in confined places. The Liberal Democrat Lord Newby pointed out that the Office for National Statistics reported that last week one person in 20 in England caught Covid, and that there were more than 100,000 new cases. About 2000 people are hospitalised each day, and last week there were 1900 deaths. “The NHS remains pressured,” Lord Newby said.