Covid and flu jabs could be made mandatory for GPs and other 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.
The Government is asking for views on plans for only fully vaccinated health and wider social care workers to be allowed in contact with patients and people receiving care, unless they have a medical exemption.
They are also considering making the flu vaccine a requirement for health and care staff.
Views from NHS staff, healthcare providers, stakeholders, patients and their families will be sought, with a final ruling due this winter.
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.’
It comes as NHS England said last month that GPs should have ‘one-to-one conversations’ with any member of practice staff who has not had both doses of the vaccine.
And in July, MPs decided that all staff working in care homes will be required to have two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine by 11 November, unless exempt.
Last month, new Government guidance suggested GPs may be required to provide evidence showing staff in care homes are medically exempt from mandatory Covid vaccinations.