Ministers are "reflecting" on plans for mandatory jabs for NHS staff, the Health Secretary has said, with the policy “under review,” despite the fact the deadline falls next week.
Sajid Javid said that while the principle behind the stance remained unchanged, the “very different” nature of the omicron variant had to be taken into account.
The Health Secretary said around 77,000 NHS workers remained unvaccinated against Covid, saying it was the “professional duty” of every NHS worker to be vaccinated.
He said efforts to boost uptake in recent weeks meant that at some trusts as few as 25 out of 5,000 staff had given a “firm refusal”.
Nationally, around five per cent of NHS staff have yet to be vaccinated.
Mr Javid hinted that the deadline of February 4 for staff to have their first jab - or face dismissal in April - could still be delayed, or see a booster added to requirements.
Omicron 'intrinsically less severe'
The Health Secretary said the decision to introduce mandatory jabs was driven by the need to protect patient safety.
Mr Javid told the Health and Social Care Committee: "That was the principle and we weighed it up. The dominant variant at the time was delta … the dominant variant now, in fact, almost all cases, is omicron."
He said people had "made representations" to him about omicron being "very different" to delta, in that while the former is more transmissible it is "intrinsically less severe".
Mr Javid said while some people had urged him to add boosters to the mandatory requirement, others have called for it to be scrapped altogether.
He said: "I think it is right in light of omicron that we reflect on all this and keep all Covid policies properly under review. Because omicron is different to delta. Equally, we don't know what the next variant is going to be … But we are reflecting on all this."
The Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of GPs are among those calling for a delay, while a number of MPs are calling for compulsory jabs to be axed.
The Health Secretary also announced plans to create a "National Vaccination Service," for the rollout of further jabs, saying GPs needed to get back to their “usual” roles.