Rachael Maskell – 2021 Speech on Covid-19 Restrictions

The speech made by Rachael Maskell, the Labour MP for York Central, in the House of Commons on 14 December 2021.

I rise to express my serious concerns about the principle of mandatory vaccination, not for any ideological reasons but because it will have the contrary effect to that intended and therefore is wrong.

My concerns are first and foremost for public safety and also patient safety. That is the analysis I bring; having worked in the NHS for 20 years as a clinician, that is drilled into us from day one. The Government’s lack of strategy in managing this pandemic is astounding and they must understand that we need to get ahead of the virus in order to lock it down, as opposed to locking people, and their futures, down. A lack of consistency also continually comes through their policies. They cannot have it both ways; there must be one approach that carries that thread of containing the virus. They cannot say to one venue that they are are going to lock it down but tell another venue it has all the freedoms it needs, because that simply does not work; in fact, it is dangerous, and therefore the Government need to get a grip.

The very people we revered—who just a year ago we were clapping and calling our heroes—are the very people who are now exhausted, traumatised and frightened, and the legislation before us will sack them. For two decades I was their colleague and I know the dedication, compassion and care they give to their patients; I was their trade union leader and I know their professionalism and the sacrifice they give for the people they care for. I will not undermine that trusted relationship, which is absolutely essential in delivering healthcare in our country, and I will not ride roughshod over Labour’s NHS constitution, which pledges to assist people to participate fully in their own healthcare decisions and to support them in decision making. I will not turn my back on working people, and I will never forget my roots and those I served alongside. While the Prime Minister partied, NHS workers put on layers of personal protective equipment and fought for lives. That is what those in the NHS do: you make sacrifices and while traumatised you just keep going.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Ind)

My Friend’s excellent work as a trade union leader in the NHS is well understood. She is speaking on behalf of NHS workers; has she any idea how many will be affected by this totally wrong attempt to force vaccinations and passports on people?

Rachael Maskell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that intervention and he makes a point I wanted to make myself. The Government’s estimate on that in their impact assessment is 123,000, and even in the best-case scenario 62,000 will lose their jobs, which the NHS simply cannot afford.

Ms Rimmer

My hon. Friend knows about health and care workers—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)

Marie, address the House please.

Ms Rimmer

I apologise. I know my hon. Friend knows about care and health workers so she knows how dedicated they are; they have a vocation. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government can and should stop going too far? Let us not break the trust between patient and worker and between Government. Let us go down the route, which has been proven to work, of persuasion and education, and ask them and work with them to distil the fear.

Rachael Maskell

I thank my hon. Friend, who represents her constituents so well. There is an alternative path and we can take it today. We know that the Prime Minister is allowing people to go to pubs and clubs unmasked, while he is sacking NHS staff who are wearing full PPE and testing. Some 93% of NHS staff are vaccinated; figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 4% of people are vaccine-hesitant, which rises to 21% among minoritised communities. As 22.1% of NHS staff are from minoritised communities, the regulations will target black workers. In fact, 26.8% of workers of mixed race are not vaccinated; that is in the Government’s impact assessment, which also gives the figures for black workers. The regulations therefore indirectly discriminate against black workers.

Unvaccinated staff are frightened. On Friday, I spoke to someone in my constituency who has worked for the NHS for 16 years. Her father had a vaccine. His heart stopped. Miraculously, NHS workers brought him back to life; he is now in a critical condition. She is frightened. She tests; she wears PPE; she has sacrificed everything. She will be sacked.

I want all NHS and care staff to have vaccine counselling and education with a qualified practitioner who holds the right competencies so that concerns can be explored, not with line managers, who just do not have the competencies. I want everyone to be vaccinated—I cannot stress that enough—but I want to win the trust of staff, not push them further away, as the Government’s approach will. In York, where we have focused on those trusted conversations, we have seen 99% of our social care staff vaccinated. It just shows what works and what makes the difference.

We do not want to push people further away. We want to bring them in, win their trust and win their confidence, because we will have to ask more from our health and care staff as things get harder—we certainly will if there are fewer people to deliver the service. Let us do what works—enforcement never does. The regulations are vaccine-illiterate.

If 123,000 people lose their job in the midst of a health and care crisis, it will be catastrophic, not least as people are starting to hand in their notice now. Why go through another tough winter of trauma when we do not have to? The regulations will make it worse. We know that two vaccines, or even three, will reduce transmission of the virus, so get your jabs! But they will not stop transmission, so let us move to better PPE, FFP3 masks, daily testing and better biosecurity. Rather than pushing the regulations today, I urge the Government to go away and come back to the House with a plan for us to vote on in January. That is good governance and the way forward.

As a trade unionist, I am not prepared to be complicit in the sacking of our NHS and care staff. Trade unionists fight for working people; we are never complicit in writing their P45. As a trade unionist, I came to this place to fight for working people. I therefore urge that we change course and put staff and the care that they have for their patients first.