Consultation has begun on plans to mandate Covid-19 and flu vaccinations for frontline health and care staff, the Government has announced.
The six-week consultation process will take views on whether vaccine requirements should apply for health and wider social care workers – those in contact with patients and people receiving care.
It would mean only those who are fully vaccinated, unless medically exempt, could be deployed to deliver health and care services.
The Government previously said all staff in registered care homes in England must be vaccinated against Covid-19 from November 11, unless medically exempt.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) Social Care Working Group has already advised the overlap between the sectors makes a strong scientific case for there to be similar approaches to vaccination.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the consultation would focus on the proposals, their scope, and any potential impact mandating vaccines could have on staffing and safety such as reducing staff sickness absence.
The process will also seek views on whether flu vaccines should be a requirement for health and care workers.
Findings will then help inform decision-making around how the mandate could be implemented and who could be exempt.
Staff, healthcare providers, stakeholders, patients and their families are being urged to take part, with a final decision expected this winter.
According to the DHSC, around 92% of NHS trust staff have received one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, with 88% of staff having received both doses.
However, the DHSC says new data shows 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. But in some settings, rates are as low as 53%.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid urged all health and social care 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.
Last month, the Institute of Health and Social Care Management (IHSCM) 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.