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More support needed for health and care workers outside the NHS, warns RCN as it reveals key staff ‘slipping through the net’

Press Release 09/02/2021

More support needed for health and care workers outside the NHS, warns RCN as it reveals key staff ‘slipping through the net’

  • 85% of nursing staff have had a COVID-19 vaccine, RCN survey finds, with direct NHS employees ranking top

  • However, two in five agency nursing staff (44%) and one in four temporary staff (27%), who often cover short-staffed areas, had not received a vaccine – compared to just one in eight hospital workers

Nursing staff not working directly for the NHS – either in local communities, social care or employed by agencies - are being left behind in the vaccination programme at a risk to themselves and those they care for, a survey by the Royal College of Nursing has found.

Days before the Government’s deadline for vaccinating the top four priority groups, which includes all health and care staff, the College is calling on the Government to redouble its efforts to reach those working outside the NHS and in agency or temporary positions.

In recent years, UK hospitals have increasingly relied on agency and temporary staff to overcome permanent staffing shortages. The finding that one in three agency workers (35%) had not yet been offered the vaccine will give rise to further concerns.

Those working outside the NHS are in the community, in care homes and people’s own homes – caring for some of the most vulnerable in society.

With over 24,000 responses, the RCN survey – which closed on Tuesday 2nd February - found that 85% of all respondents had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 7% have received both doses.

However, 15% of all nursing staff were yet to be vaccinated. The data shows that of those who haven’t yet been offered the vaccine, 70% work in non-NHS settings.

Overall, regardless of where they worked, one in three agency staff (35%) and one in five (19%) temporary staff had not been offered a vaccine yet, whereas for permanent staff that figure is around one in 20 (6%).

Dame Donna Kinnair, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said:

“Temporary and agency staff work in our communities and hospitals, with patients and the public – and they face the same level of risk as their NHS colleagues. Every effort must be made to reach all nursing staff to ensure the protection of patients and vulnerable people.

“The JCVI guidance is clear that the COVID-19 vaccine should be available to all health and social care staff. This is irrespective of where they are employed, including agency staff and those employed in the independent sectors. 

“Employers are ultimately responsible for ensuring all their staff are able to access the vaccine. But the Government must intervene now, as our members have proven this is clearly not the case.”


Notes to Editors:

Methodology and respondents

An online survey was open to all RCN members from Friday 29 January to Tuesday 2 February 2021, with the aim to explore respondents’ experiences of accessing the COVID-19 vaccine across all settings in health and social care in the UK.  

We received a total of 24,370 responses from nursing staff across the UK, working in different roles and settings. We are aiming to repeat the survey to monitor the ongoing vaccination programme.

Eighty-one per cent of the responses were from England, four per cent Northern Ireland, 10 per cent Scotland and six per cent Wales.

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