The UZ Saint-Luc hospital in Brussels is warning that it won’t be able to function if the mandatory vaccination of healthcare personnel is implemented and this leads to the forced suspension of staff that resist vaccination.
“I am not opposed to compulsory vaccination. But if it comes into effect in January, I don't see how the hospital will be able to function,” Joëlle Durbecq, head of the hospital's nurses, told De Standaard.
The Federal Government reached an agreement on the mandatory vaccination of healthcare personnel back in November, saying that staff who have not been vaccinated between 1 January and 31 March will only be able to continue working if they’re tested every 72 hours.
If not, a suspension with temporary unemployment would follow. Any employee not vaccinated by 1 April could be fired.
Staff shortages are already an issue
These mandatory vaccination requirements have been criticised, not only by those who oppose the Covid-19 vaccination but by those who say the law will cause crippling staff shortages that will disrupt healthcare.
“We have already had to close 108 of our 1,000 available hospital beds due to staff shortages,” Durbecq explained. “That’s the equivalent of 3 to 4 wards in the hospital.”
Around 10% of the staff at Saint-Luc University Hospital are not vaccinated. “If we cannot count on those people from 1 January, I don't see how the hospital can continue to function. Many more beds will have to be closed.”
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Closures would affect hospitals’ ability to treat coronavirus patients, which is already a struggle amid a fourth virus wave.
“There was already a shortage before the pandemic; this crisis came on top of it. We simply cannot find enough staff,” said Durbecq. “We can't afford to lose that 10% now, especially in the middle of a crisis in which everything is about to collapse.”
Protests against mandatory vaccination
There have already been protests against the mandatory vaccination of healthcare workers, including a recent one that saw around 3,800 people gather outside the office of Frank Vandenbroucke, Minister for Public Health.
Police used tear gas to disperse protestors that tried to force their way into the office, according to the spokesperson of the Brussels-Ixelles police. The protestors were pushed back and no arrests were made although the building was damaged.
Many of the slogans – such as "The real emergency is not to lay off workers” and “Save our health system instead of laying off workers” – echoed the concerns being voiced by Saint-Luc hospital.
“The care sector has been atrophied for a long time and has been further impacted by the health crisis,” said Olivier Nyssen, secretary-general of the CGSP.
“Sanctioning unvaccinated workers will further increase the shortage until it jeopardises healthcare in the country. Reducing personnel will increase the burden and exhaustion of vaccinated health workers. Beds are already closing.”