The boss of King George and Queen’s Hospitals said its staff would still be encouraged to get Covid jabs after a government U-turn on compulsory vaccinations.

Health secretary Sajid Javid announced on Monday (January 31) that the government would be launching a consultation on ending mandatory vaccination for NHS workers.

The policy would have seen hundreds of Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust’s (BHRUT) 7,538 staff lose their jobs if they did not receive two doses by April 1.

Trust bosses had warned of a “difficult” situation if vaccination rates had not improved by the deadline, with some services put at risk.

Maternity – where a low vaccination rate was compounded by existing vacancies – looked to be particularly threatened.

However, Mr Javid told the House of Commons on Monday that given the “less severe” Omicron variant had become the dominant strain of coronavirus, it was “no longer proportionate” to require vaccination of health workers by law.

“I have always been clear that our rules must remain proportionate and balanced, and of course, should we see another dramatic change in the virus, it would be only responsible to review the policy again,” he added.

In a statement, BHRUT chief executive Matthew Trainer said he was “grateful” that staff had “avoided the issue becoming a source of conflict” in recent weeks.

He added: “We have devoted a significant amount of time to encouraging colleagues to get their Covid-19 vaccine and I want to thank everyone who has supported this work, especially our trade union colleagues.”

He said the trust would continue to encourage staff to take the vaccine.

In recent weeks it has more than halved its number of unvaccinated staff.

Around 1,300 had not been jabbed when Mr Trainer addressed BHRUT’s board on January 11, whereas the figure now stands at around 441 – around 5.9 per cent of staff.

The number of unvaccinated midwives fell from 70 to 29.

Responding to rumours of the U-turn before the announcement, Andrew Rosindell, MP for Romford, wrote on Twitter that the minister had made the right decision.

Last week the MP described the policy as “ludicrous” and met with protesting staff at Queen’s Hospital in Romford.

Jon Cruddas, Dagenham and Rainham MP, told this paper that losing staff would have been “disastrous for local services” and said the right approach would have been to extend the deadline.