A six-week consultation has begun on plans to make COVID-19 and flu vaccinations mandatory for frontline health and care staff, the government has announced.
Ministers will hear from experts on whether workers in the sector should be fully vaccinated in order to have contact with patients and people receiving care. Only those with valid medical reasons would be exempt.
According to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), around 92% of NHS trust staff have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 88% of staff having received both doses.
But new data suggests uptake rates between NHS trusts can vary from around 78% to 94% for both doses.
The government previously said all staff in registered care homes in England must be vaccinated against COVID-19 from 11 November, unless medically exempt.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has already suggested the overlap between the sectors makes a strong scientific case for similar approaches to vaccination.
The DHSC said the consultation will examine the scope of the plan and any potential impact mandating vaccines could have on staffing and safety such as reducing staff sickness absence.
Last week Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents the frontline healthcare system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, told Sky News mandatory vaccination was not an issue that needed tackling.
Speaking to the Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme, Mr Taylor argued requiring all NHS staff to be jabbed as a condition of employment “is not necessary”.
He said: “The overwhelming majority of NHS staff are choosing to be vaccinated and the important thing is to support or give people the opportunity to be vaccinated, so I think we would want to say that there is no necessity for compulsion, for surveillance of people at this stage, because the staff themselves are doing the right thing.”
The consultation will also evaluate whether flu vaccines should be a mandated requirement and who could be included in the policy.
National flu vaccination rates in the health service have increased from 14% in 2002 to 76% last year. But in some settings, rates are as low as 53%.
Staff, healthcare providers, stakeholders, patients and their families are being urged to take part in the consultation, with a final decision expected this winter.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid urged all staff to be vaccinated, regardless of the outcome of the consultation.
He 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.”
The care industry has previously expressed concern over the effect mandatory vaccination may have on the sector’s already-stretched staffing levels.
UNISON is calling on ministers to stop “sleepwalking into a disaster” and end the ‘no jab, no job’ rule, claiming it is the only way to avert a staffing crisis.
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Last month, the Institute of Health and Social Care Management surveyed more than 1,000 care managers in partnership with the PA news agency.
The survey found that nine in 10 managers said their workplace was experiencing staff shortages or having difficulty recruiting.
A third of managers (32.8%) said they had staff quit or hand in their notice over the requirement to be vaccinated, while more than half (55.2%) said they feared they would have to dismiss staff over the coming months because they had not been vaccinated.
The government’s own predictions are that up to 40,000 of the more than half a million care workers in the country won’t be fully vaccinated by the 11 November deadline.
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