Mandatory Covid jabs for NHS and social care workers are set to be scrapped, The Telegraph can reveal, after warnings of crippling staff shortages if the plan went ahead.
Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, will on Monday meet fellow ministers on the Covid-Operations Cabinet committee to rubber stamp the decision on the about-turn.
Multiple government sources said ministers are expected to end the requirement because the omicron Covid variant, now dominant in the UK, is milder than previous strains.
The move comes after warnings that almost 80,000 healthcare workers would be forced out of their jobs because they had declined to take two doses of a Covid vaccine.
The Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of GPs have all pushed for the requirement to be delayed, with warnings it would have a “catastrophic” impact.
The jab requirement for NHS workers was meant to come into force in April – making this Thursday, Feb 3, the last day on which staff could get their first jab in order to be fully vaccinated in time.
The legal requirement for care home staff to be fully vaccinated came into effect in November. An estimated 40,000 people lost their jobs over the policy. Under the new rules, they are expected to be able to return to work in the sector.
On Sunday night, care home representatives expressed fury at the handling of the issue, saying the flip-flopping had “devastated our workforce and brought providers to their knees”.
The change of approach reflects Downing Street’s increasing focus on how the UK must “learn to live with Covid” as the surge of omicron cases fades.
Stripping back restrictions and policy interventions adopted earlier in the pandemic will be welcomed by a group of lockdown-sceptic Tory MPs frustrated by Boris Johnson’s approach.
Ahead of Monday’s key meeting to sign off the policy change, a senior government source familiar with discussions outlined the argument for ending the requirement.
“Omicron has changed things. When we first introduced the policy, it was delta that was the dominant variant. That was very high risk in terms of how severe it was,” the source said.
“For omicron, while it is more transmissible, all the studies have shown it is less severe. That has changed the conversation about whether mandatory jabs are still proportionate.”
At a recent parliamentary committee appearance, Mr Javid signalled that he was open to a change in approach, saying the mandatory jabs policy was being kept “under review”.
Changing the law to force scores of workers to get Covid jabs sparked controversy when The Telegraph revealed the plans last March. A legal expert at the time said that the only comparable UK laws dated from the 1800s, when newborns had to be given smallpox jabs.
Matt Hancock, then the health secretary, had championed the change, and Mr Johnson agreed. But Mr Javid has been more cautious about Covid interventions.
It is unclear when the policy change, once signed off, will be announced. It is expected to be made public before the Feb 3 cut-off for unvaccinated NHS workers to get jabbed.
NHS guidance to employers said all front line staff who had not been vaccinated should start being called into formal meetings from Feb 4 and warned that they faced dismissal.
Last week, the Health Secretary said around 77,000 NHS workers remain unvaccinated against the virus. Ministers are expected to point to the fact that tens of thousands of healthcare workers were vaccinated after the original policy was announced.
Responding to The Telegraph’s revelation that plans for mandatory vaccines in both the NHS and social care sector will be scrapped, Nadra Ahmed OBE, who chairs the National Care Association, said: “This decision epitomises the lack of foresight by ministers in choosing to drive the implementation of this policy without producing impact assessment prior to taking it to the vote.
“Every parliamentarian who voted for it in social care needs to take responsibility for the loss of staff our sector have suffered because of an ill-thought out policy. Social care has been used as a pilot which has devastated our workforce and brought providers to their knees.”
Mike Padgham, the chairman of the Independent Care Group for York and North Yorkshire and the owner of Saint Cecilia’s Care Services, which operates four care businesses, said: “It feels like a bit of a slap in the face.
“I like to think that all those staff that lost their jobs would get them back again, because we need them. It’s what we argued in the beginning – the vaccine was a good thing, but it shouldn’t be mandatory.
“Common sense seems to have prevailed now, but there’s been a lot of heartache and sleepless nights for people – unnecessarily – in the midst of a pandemic, when we all said at the beginning that this wasn’t the right approach.
“This just shows that they don’t understand the difference between the NHS and social care sectors and both need to be strong to support each other. “
It is understood that the Government is anticipating backlash from carers who lost their jobs as a result of the policy.
In October, the courts rejected an initial judicial review application that challenged the Government’s vaccine mandate for workers in CQC-regulated care homes. However, it is now anticipated that if those who want their jobs back struggle to get them back, will seek legal action and a renewed application.