A mandatory Covid vaccination policy for NHS staff in England could be discriminatory, widen inequalities and increase workplace bullying and harassment, a top doctor has said.
Downing Street is reportedly considering a review of making it mandatory for all health and social care staff in England to have the jab as a way of protecting patients.
Staff, however, say the proposals must be scrutinised under health and safety law, and human rights and legal frameworks.
Dr Habib Naqvi, the director of the NHS’s race and health observatory and former deputy director of the NHS workforce race equality standard, said: “Over the last 12 months, BME staff within the NHS have already faced a number of challenges, including the lack of PPE, risk assessments of variable quality and redeployment to frontline Covid-19 wards.
“While we recommend health and social care workers take the vaccination to protect themselves, patients and colleagues, we are concerned that a new mandatory policy, predominantly impacting frontline BME NHS staff, casual and low-paid female carers, could be discriminatory.
“It could lead to the widening of inequalities and a further increase in workplace bullying and harassment, beyond the levels highlighted in the latest NHS workplace race equality standard annual data report.”
The government is being urged to carry out equality impact assessments before any decision is made, and ensure that frontline staff should not face disciplinary action or additional pressure from management or colleagues if they choose not to take the vaccine for personal or medical reasons.
The British Medical Association, which represents doctors, and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), described the move as unnecessary, given the high uptake among staff, and said it would have ethical and legal implications.
In another effort to turn the tide on low uptake among BAME communities, 150 councillors joined forces to sign an open letter and release social media videos to encourage people in their communities to take the vaccine.
As part of the campaign, which has the backing of the prime minister, Boris Johnson, the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, and the vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi, councillors from both the Conservative and Labour party have signed the letter.
It said: “The vaccine is our path back to normality. Taking the vaccine will mean we can slowly begin to get our lives back to normal. We understand the fears and the anxieties but each one of us has the power to protect ourselves and help fight this deadly virus. The vaccine is now available and we urge you all to take it when called to do so.”
Birmingham Labour councillor Paulette Hamilton, who signed the letter, urged those with concerns to seek advice from their GP. “The vaccine not only protects the individual it protects their families, loved ones and the wider community. The vaccine is our way collectively as a nation to beat this deadly virus. Do not let misinformation put you or your loved ones at risk,” she said.