Covid-19 and flu vaccines could be made mandatory for nurses and frontline health staff to keep patients safe, the Government has said.
A six-week consultation launched today will decide whether to make vaccination ‘a condition of deployment’ for frontline NHS workers in order to protect patients.
Under the plans, only health and social care workers double-vaccinated against Covid-19 – and vaccinated against flu – to be allowed in contact with people receiving care, unless they have a medical exemption.
The Government is asking for views from NHS staff, healthcare providers, stakeholders, patients and their families will be sought, with a final ruling due this winter.
But the RCN has raised concerns about introducing mandatory vaccinations, with professional lead for public health Helen Donovan arguing ‘the focus should be on communicating the benefits of the vaccination rather than making them mandatory’.
She continued: ‘Involving staff in this consultation will help them to become further involved in the decision making and it is vital their views are properly taken into account over the next steps.’
The consultation will look at three risks in clinical settings and how they can be decreased by vaccination:
- The amount of interaction between staff, patients and visitors in a clinical environment
- Patient vulnerability
- High-risk procedures
It will also take into account the potential impact on staffing and reducing staff absences from sickness.
So far, more than nine in 10 (92%) of NHS trust staff in the UK have had one dose and more than eight in 10 (88%) both doses of the Covid vaccination.
National flu jab rates in the health sector have risen from 14% in 2002 to 76% in 2020. However in some settings, staff rates are just over half (53%).
Health secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘Many patients being treated in hospitals and other clinical settings are most at risk of suffering serious consequences of Covid-19, and we must do what we can to protect them.
‘It’s so clear to see the impact vaccines have against respiratory viruses which can be fatal to the vulnerable, and that’s why we’re exploring mandatory vaccines for both Covid-19 and flu.
‘We will consider the responses to the consultation carefully but, whatever happens, I urge the small minority of NHS staff who have not yet been jabbed to consider getting vaccinated – for their own health as well as those around them.’
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: ‘Members will continue to emphasise education and communication with staff, which will be crucial even if the government mandates vaccination for NHS staff. We will also work closely with our trade union colleagues to address the concerns of their members and to ensure that the implementation of any decision is handled sensitively.
‘We will need to understand the detail of the proposals, but the focus must remain on increasing vaccine confidence and the approach taken to date to encourage uptake through informed consent remains the preferred option.’