Guidance published by NHS England last month said that ‘at present there are no plans to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine’ for NHS staff – but the government is consulting on proposals that could make vaccination a requirement in some cases.
A consultation launched this month says the government plans to impose a ‘requirement to be vaccinated’ that would apply to ‘all staff deployed in a care home supporting at least one older adult over the age of 65’.
The consultation says that ‘arguably’ this requirement should apply to all health and care workers – including GPs and other practice staff – who visit care homes to provide care.
Polling by the BMA shows that the vast majority of GPs have now been vaccinated – 93% of GP partners, 86% of salaried GPs and 84% of locums have now received both doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
However, increased vaccine hesitancy among some healthcare workers has been reported, and not only among staff working in care homes. In care homes, the government says that just 53% of care homes for older adults currently meet the required level of vaccination coverage among staff and residents to protect against COVID-19 outbreaks.
RCGP chair professor Martin Marshall said any effort to mandate vaccination for GPs and other NHS staff was not the right way to go, however.
He said: ‘GPs and our teams – and colleagues across the NHS – are working hard to vaccinate as many people as possible to protect them from COVID-19.’ More than 33m people had now received at least one dose of vaccine UK-wide, around 10.8m of whom have also received a second dose – with three quarters of jabs delivered in general practice, he pointed out.
But Dr Marshall added: ‘While overall take-up is high, among groups where it is not, this needs to be identified, understood and addressed.
‘We would strongly urge all health and care professionals to have the COVID-19 vaccine, unless there is a medical reason why they shouldn’t, and the vast majority have. Healthcare professionals are at high-risk of contracting COVID-19 and getting vaccinated will help protect themselves, their colleagues and their patients.
‘However, we don’t agree with making COVID-19 vaccination mandatory as informed and educated choice about health interventions would be more beneficial long-term than enforcing them, which risks leading to resentment and mistrust.
‘The COVID-19 vaccine is our most important tool in protecting people from the virus, and helping to get life back to normal. All vaccines that we’re currently using in the UK have undergone rigorous testing to ensure they are safe and effective – as such, we’d urge anyone who is offered a jab to have one.’