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From The Socialist newspaper, 24 November 2021

Tories responsible for NHS staff shortages

Photo: Steve Eason/CC

Photo: Steve Eason/CC   (Click to enlarge)

Holly Johnston, Sheffield Socialist Party and health worker in GMB union

Health secretary Sajid Javid has announced that vaccinations will be made mandatory for health service workers in England by the spring.

We cannot afford for NHS and care staff to be reprimanded or taken off the frontline for not having a mandatory vaccine in the middle of a national crisis and during the winter period.

Around 93% of healthcare workers have been vaccinated. I would encourage all staff to have the vaccine, but do not agree that it should be compulsory. Staff will simply leave and we cannot take that risk on top of the staff that are leaving already and the 100,000 plus vacancies that already exist.

There are many reasons why some healthcare workers are hesitant, many are worried about feeling ill from the side effects of the vaccine and not being able to work or arrange childcare for example. There are also cultural reasons. Many are in precarious zero-hour contracts and cannot afford to take time off.

There needs to be a clear public health message about the vaccine and prevention-based management of Covid cases. Mandating vaccines is not a substitute for the management of the spread of Covid, for workplace safety and the correct PPE.

The vaccines as a whole cannot be used as a reason to act prematurely with the relaxing of social distancing and wearing masks in public spaces for example. As a trade unionist and a campaigner, I have been fighting hard to change the government guidance and provision of PPE since the beginning of the pandemic, exposing the corrupt crony contracts and PPE provision that was based on what was available rather than what was needed.

Compulsory vaccines for healthcare workers is proving to be another dividing tactic and we need to stick together and have the backing of our unions. We cannot let the government demonise healthcare workers.

The handling of vaccinations for staff in the health and care services is another example of why we need democratically controlled, publicly owned health and care services.

If staff felt more valued, if there was more transparency and clear public health messages around the vaccine, if working conditions were less terrible and the issues of pay were less pressing, we would see more of an uptake of people having the vaccine.

The Tories will try to blame staff shortages on the unwillingness of some staff to be vaccinated. We must be clear that chronic staff shortages predate the pandemic and are a consequence of low pay and poor working conditions. That's why members of the health unions have rejected the pitiful 3% pay offer and why my union, GMB, is balloting its members in the NHS for strike action. A decent NHS pay rise would be a big step towards reducing worker shortages and improving healthcare for all.

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In The Socialist 24 November 2021:


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