The Government has today (9 September) launched a consultation on making it mandatory for all frontline health and social care staff in England — including pharmacy team members — to have a flu and Covid vaccine. 

The consultation proposes that only health workers who are fully vaccinated against Covid should be deployed to deliver health and care services in order to protect patients. 

The proposals also suggest making the flu vaccine mandatory for health and care staff. 

It comes after the Government made it mandatory for all care home workers in England to be vaccinated against Covid earlier this year, unless medically exempt. These rules come into force on 11 November.  

Views from NHS staff, healthcare providers, stakeholders, patients and their families will be sought over the next six weeks, with a final decision expected this winter, the Government said. 

The consultation will consider three specific risks which can occur in clinical settings and how they can be decreased or avoided through vaccination. 

Firstly, it will consider the level of interaction in a clinical setting between staff, patients and visitors. It will also look at the vulnerability of patients and high-risk procedures.  

The consultation will also consider the benefit of compulsory vaccines to staff themselves, and the possibility of avoiding staff sickness absences which put pressure on the NHS during busy periods like winter when flu tends to circulate. 

According to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), nearly 92% of NHS trust staff across the UK have received their first dose Covid-19 vaccine, and 88% of staff have received both doses. 

However, the DHSC said the uptake rates between NHS trusts can vary from around 78% to 94% for both doses. 

National flu vaccination rates in the health service have increased from 14% in 2002 to 76% last year. However, in some healthcare settings, the rates appear to be as low as 53%. 

Paul Day, director of the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) welcomed the proposal but wants to ensure that those who are medically exempt and who do not receive the vaccine are not disadvantaged in any way.  

‘The PDA strongly encourages its members to participate in the vaccination programme, and has promoted a successful #Getvaccinated campaign.   

‘However, among pharmacists there are some who will be medically exempt from the vaccination, and it is important that they are considered and not unfairly disadvantaged by any approach.  

‘The PDA also understands there may be a small number of pharmacists who for reasons other than medical exemption do not wish to have the vaccination.  As a trade union, we will support those individuals that are our members with any implications for their employment and career from such a policy.’  

He added: ‘The broader workforce situation also needs to be carefully considered as the wider health and social care sector is already vulnerable to staff shortages. Government decision makers must ensure that whatever policy they set can still deliver enough appropriately trained and qualified staff to deliver patient care,’ he explained.  

Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), said: ‘Clearly this is a complex matter and there will be a wide range of opinions from our members which we will canvas before replying to the consultation.  

‘We do know that some of our members have predicted the possibility of this consultation and have already discussed this with their employment law insurers who they have made it clear there are severe implications in employment law. 

‘It highly likely that staff will be able to make claims against contractors as employers unless they are supported in law when making vaccinations compulsory for front line pharmacy staff.’ 

However, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, emphasised that the policy would help those being treated in hospitals and other clinical settings, who are most at risk from Covid-19.  

He said: 'We must do what we can to protect them. 

‘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.’ 

'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. 

The consultation will be open for six weeks.