King George and Queen’s hospitals will face an “incredibly difficult” situation if staff vaccination numbers do not improve in the coming weeks.

Recent legislation made it mandatory for people working in the NHS to have had two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine by April 1, meaning a first dose by February 3.

The controversial policy could see the loss of tens of thousands of NHS staff across the country and has been described as “self-sabotage” by the Royal College of Nursing and Royal College of Midwives.

Matthew Trainer, chief executive at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT), which manages King George and Queen’s hospitals, told a board meeting on Tuesday, January 11, that the trust does not have a vaccination record for roughly 1,300 of its approximately 7,500 staff.

That’s an unvaccinated rate of roughly 17.4 per cent.

He said BHRUT was “pretty sure that a significant number” may have had vaccines elsewhere or will decide to have their first jab in the coming weeks.

However, he conceded there is a "small but significant group of staff who have very strong views on this”.

He told the board he would be meeting a group of employees who are opposed to mandatory vaccination this week and said it was important to “recognise and respect” their concerns.

Mr Trainer emphasised mandatory staff vaccination was not a trust or NHS policy, but law, and said if BHRUT doesn't “see a shift in those numbers”, hospital services would be negatively affected.

“It’s quite quickly going to switch to being quite a difficult operational context if we don’t see those numbers shift,” he said.

“Even 50 per cent of what we have currently got – if we were in a position where we were talking about hundreds of staff who are unvaccinated come February 3, in an operational context, that is going to become operationally incredibly difficult."

He said there were particular concerns about the impact on women’s and children’s health and geriatric services.

BHRUT’s chief nurse Kathryn Halford noted the maternity department was already suffering from staffing shortages, with 35 existing vacancies.

She said while there are a number of new starters joining, the department is still anticipating a 10 per cent vacancy rate before any staff are lost as a result of the vaccine mandate.

She said this rate would be “normally quite manageable” but that if more midwives did not get their vaccine, “that will tip us well over the 10 per cent and that will become an increasing concern for us”.

Mr Trainer noted there were “very clearly defined ratios of midwives to women” and said the "existing vacancy rate plus the unvaccinated rate would put us in a really quite serious position”.

He added: “The Queen’s birthing centre I think has not been open since I got here and I couldn’t see any circumstances in which it would reopen if we lost another chunk of midwives for the foreseeable future.

“I think it would leave us in a position where we would have to look at constraining services and focusing in on the labour ward, looking at complex births and making sure we are doing everything we possibly can to manage those as safely as possible, and also looking at north east London as a network of maternity services.”

Last November, the trust told the Recorder that the birth centre was not closed, despite patient complaints that the service was unavailable.

At the time, although the trust admitted that redeployments of staff had resulted in the birthing centre being temporarily unavailable at points, it insisted the service was not closed.

Ruth Crowley, a Havering GP and clinical director for Havering Health, noted staff who have been vocally opposed to vaccination may not wish to be seen having it at the hospital.

She said she would “happily fast-track them through any of our sites” in an effort to bring the number of unvaccinated staff down.