Could Luton & Dunstable Hospital be 'in trouble' as staff Covid vaccination deadline approaches?

Chief executive responds to councillor's fears by saying 'relatively low figure could still be significant'

By Euan Duncan
Monday, 17th January 2022, 12:46 pm
Updated Monday, 17th January 2022, 12:50 pm

A councillor has warned that dismissing unvaccinated health staff will leave Luton and Dunstable Hospital "in trouble".

Labour South councillor David Agbley raised his concerns at a borough council scrutiny health and social care review group meeting. He was told by chief executive of the Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, David Carter, that time was running out for L&D staff to get vaccinated and that a significant number "perhaps small hundreds" would not meet the Government's deadline to have two doses by March 31.

Councillor Agbley enquired about potentially getting rid of unvaccinated hospital and care home staff by April 1 and also raised the question of vaccination fatigue across the town as a whole.

Luton and Dunstable Hospital

"What percentage of your hospital staff are going to be dismissed if you don't find alternative employment for them?" he asked. "If you're struggling with staffing levels currently, you'll be in deep trouble."

Mr Carter said: "We're looking at all the staff who appear unvaccinated at this point. Our vaccination rates were about 90 per cent of staff.

"Some are just pre-retirement who've not had it and will be departing anyway, and some have been vaccinated overseas or in other places and the national databases aren't updated yet.

"We don't know how many staff will be in that position. The reality is we'd have very limited ability to redeploy the staff into other roles.

Covid vaccination

"We're doing everything we can to minimise that number. We're hoping it will be a relatively low figure, perhaps small hundreds, but that still could be significant.

"I'm worried about the effect on staffing morale and the way people feel about it. There are very strong views.

"A number have become more entrenched in their position not to be vaccinated because it's mandatory.

"We understand why the government decided to do this to protect everyone," he added. "Our time is running out. Staff need to be vaccinated by early February for their first vaccination."

Overall, Luton residents have received 350,000 Covid-19 vaccines, and 76,900 booster jabs, but about 41,400 remain eligible having received dose two, according to a report to the group which met on Thursday (Jan 13).

"The town had the ninth lowest booster vaccination rate, at 36.1 per cent of those aged 12 and above, across all authorities in England as of January 7th," said the report.

"And 35.3 per cent of 12- to 15-year-olds have been vaccinated, which is below BLMK neighbours (at 50 to 59 per cent) and the England average (at 50 per cent)."

The council's director of public health Sally Cartwright told the group: "The vaccination programme continues to roll out.

"We're lagging behind where we'd want to be over the uptake, as has been the case throughout," she explained. "There's a large amount of hesitancy over the vaccine programme for the local population,"

"We're in the process of developing a really robust three-month inequalities plan targeting those areas which have a lower uptake.

"Hopefully the pop-up in the old post office in The Mall will reopen this week, as more of a stable offer, for the three-month period.

"Compared to nearest neighbours, we're unfortunately down the bottom in terms of uptake of vaccine, and compared to the rest of the boroughs in England we're the ninth lowest for the booster and 19th lowest for dose two of the vaccination.

"We're doing all we can to get people vaccinated, and we've obtained extra government funding for a Covid vaccination champions programme.

"We're working quickly on plans to mobilise that around vaccine inequalities and working with groups which have a low uptake."