Toggle high contrast
Issue date

The TUC is today (Friday) calling for the government to delay the introduction of mandatory vaccinations for NHS workers in bid to avert a staffing crisis. 

NHS England data shows 39,142 NHS staff at hospital trusts in England were absent for Covid-19 reasons on January 2, up 59% on the previous week (24,632) and more than three times the number at the start of December (12,508). 

The TUC warns introduction of the mandatory vaccination policy will exacerbate this crisis, creating a bureaucratic and staffing nightmare for NHS Trusts and making it impossible to maintain safe staffing levels in the coming weeks.  

And the union body strongly urges everyone who isn’t medically exempt to get vaccinated and boosted, and for ministers to make that as easy for whole NHS staff team. 

The union body says ministers must:  

  • Delay with immediate effect mandatory vaccination as a condition of deployment in the NHS. 

  • Prioritise access to lateral flow and PCR tests for more key workers in health and other vital public services. This should reach more than the current proposal for just 100,000 ‘critical workers’ and must include outsourced NHS workers such as porters and cleaners. 

  • Ensure NHS staff health and safety with access to high quality PPE and workplaces that are properly ventilated to minimise transmission and infection. 

Recruitment and retention crisis 

The TUC says the current staffing crisis existed well before the pandemic, driven by a decade of funding cuts and pay restraint. On the eve of the pandemic in 2019, close to one in ten posts in the NHS were vacant – a rate far higher than comparable healthcare systems elsewhere in Europe.  

Unfilled vacancies put huge strain on staff, leading to burnout, absenteeism and turnover. And the cumulative impact of coping with these shortages whilst working on the frontline of the pandemic, has led many key workers in the NHS to breaking point, says the TUC. 

A resilient and robust NHS 

The TUC is calling on the government to listen to NHS staff and their unions and fix the long-term issues behind the current crisis. The union body says ministers must:  

  • Implement an early and significant pay rise for NHS staff, reversing a decade of lost pay, through fully independent Pay Review Bodies or collective bargaining, without restrictions being set by Treasury pay policy. 

  • Provide a significant increase in investment in the NHS that reverses a decade of cuts and enables employers to recruit for and maintain safe staffing levels. 

  • Implement a fully costed, long-term workforce strategy designed with workers and their representatives that addresses vacancy issues, staff supports retention and that improves services for patients. 

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:  

“We are in the middle of an NHS staffing crisis, borne not only from covid absences, but also long-term problems that need long-term solutions. Now is not the right time to introduce more bureaucracy.  

“Legislation for this policy has passed but this is precisely the wrong time to implement it. NHS Trusts need to focus their resources on patient care.  

“We need to keep patients safe and maintain safe staffing levels. As hospitals declare critical incidents amid a surge in Covid cases, the NHS cannot afford to lose experienced and skilled staff.” 

Editors note

- Mandatory vaccinations: 

  • MPs voted 385 to 100 for legislation that would require mandatory vaccination for NHS staff on 14 December 2021. 

  • From April 2022, NHS nurses will need to have two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine to go to work if their role involves “direct contact with patients”, unless they have an exemption.  

  • Around 5 per cent of NHS workers are likely to be unvaccinated by the February deadline, but the proportion will vary significantly across the country. For example, 12 per cent of health and care workers are currently unvaccinated in the north east London area. 

  • NHS Trusts are expected to begin implementing the policy from 2 February 2022. 

- Real terms pay loss since 2010 in the NHS (source: TUC analysis of NHS pay rates): 

  • Porters (higher level) pay is down by £920 (-4.4%) 

  • Medical secretaries pay is down by £1,330 (-5.8%) 

  • Maternity care assistants and nursery nurses pay is down by £2,231 (-8.2%) 

  • Nurses and community nurses pay is down by up to £2,715 (-7.9%) 

  • Midwifes, radiographer specialists and paramedics pay is down by £3,500 (-8.2%) 

  • Occupational therapist (advanced) pay is down by £4,110 (-8.2%) 

- Notes on pay loss analysis: 

  • Pay data compares wages in 2010 and in 2021 and is adjusted for inflation using CPI – comparing 2010 wages in real terms today (if they had kept up with the cost of living) with 2021 wages. 

  • For NHS workers 2021 wages are estimated using the 3% pay award recommended by the NHSPRB. The pay figures are for individual occupations at the top of agenda for change pay scale 

- About the TUC: The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together the 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living. 


TUC press office   
020 7467 1248  

Enable Two-Factor Authentication

To access the admin area, you will need to setup two-factor authentication (TFA).

Setup now