Will Making the Vaccine Mandatory For Health Workers Trigger a Talent Exodus?
In early November, the UK Government announced new legislation making COVID-19 vaccines legally compulsory for all health and social care workers who have face-to-face contact with patients.
The requirement will not come into effect until April 2022, giving organisations time to undertake the necessary ‘workforce planning’. But many are warning that the move will trigger a mass exodus of healthcare workers.
And with a waitlist of nearly 6 million patients and 90,000 vacancies in the NHS, can the UK’s healthcare workforce really take the strain?
Why would the law cause a talent exodus?
When the government was deliberating over the legislation, many raised concerns that making the vaccine mandatory would have negative implications for staffing. Not only are there still 103,000 NHS workers and 105,000 domiciliary care workers who are not yet fully vaccinated, many are concerned that health workers will leave their roles in protest against the mandate.
This is borne out in the data: recent surveys have suggested some staff may feel further marginalised if forced to have vaccines. For many, it is not even about the specifics of the vaccine - it’s a point of principle.
In these instances, using the full force of the law to try to convince them will only exacerbate the issue. Trust will be lost, and cultural divisions will deepen as unvaccinated workers fear being stigmatised and ostracised.
This is why some have argued that a campaign of persuasion would be more effective than making vaccines mandatory. Mandatory vaccination has been described as a ‘blunt instrument’, lacking the nuance necessary to tackle complex issues of trust and personal liberty. And with burnout and employee mental health already a major concern in healthcare, the perception that individual autonomy is being taken away may push many over the edge.
Ultimately, a recent report from the House of Lords looked to quantify the cost/benefit of the new - and its findings were scathing. The report estimates that, of the 208,000 currently unvaccinated workers in the health service, the proposed legislation would see 54,000 (26%) additional staff being vaccinated - but lead 126,000 (61%) to leave their jobs because of “non-compliance” with the new requirement.
The report goes on to project that the legislation will cost the healthcare sector £270 million in additional expenses and cause major disruptions to the provision of care.
Who will be most affected?
A large study of healthcare workers reported that those in patient facing roles, including nurses, nursing associates, and midwives, were more likely to be vaccine hesitant. These are the roles most at risk from the new legislation - and therefore the roles that will require the most urgent consideration from recruiters and leaders.
There are concerns over geography, too. Studies show that those living and working in areas of deprivation are the least likely to be vaccinated. This suggests that the mandate will lead to a larger loss of workers in these exact areas - reducing the provision of care and further entrenching inequality.
So what can organisations do?
Only time will tell whether mandatory vaccines will have the effect many fear. There are strong arguments on both sides of the debate, and if COVID has taught us anything, it’s that prediction is rarely an exact science.
There are, however, a few things organisations can do to prepare themselves - not just for the potential fallout of this new legislation, but more broadly for the future:
Educate workers on the vaccine
Organisations can build greater trust with their employers by taking a softer approach to vaccination. This doesn’t mean simply leaving people to their own devices; it means genuinely listening to concerns workers have and helping to educate them on the safety and importance of vaccination.
The Royal College of Nursing has offered some great advice on how leaders can do this.
Improve your workplace culture
Making mandatory vaccines is expected to alienate many workers. Healthcare organisations must therefore excerpt extra effort to ensure the workplace culture is positive and inclusive.
A big part of this is mental health. By providing more wellbeing initiatives and emphasising the importance of mental health, organisations can help combat the stress of their roles - ultimately encouraging greater loyalty and increasing retention.
Embrace data to increase visibility
Healthcare organisations routinely suffer from data silos and a lack of general workforce visibility. This means that, in many cases, the staffing implications of the new legislation will actually be much harder to assess than one might assume.
With better, clearer data, leaders will be able to plan effectively for disruptions to their workforce - and put in place better measures to preempt and mitigate the damage caused by these sorts of events.
How Rota can help
In these challenging times, organizations must rethink how they operate. While this often comes down to fundamental strategic changes, it is also vital that they embrace technology that will help them adapt to the new world of work.
Rota’s workforce management platform is ideal for this. It produces unparalleled visibility of your workforce, enabling you to become more data-driven in the long run. And by consolidating internal and external staffing processes, it streamlines your operations and ensures you have more time to focus on the big picture questions.