Covid vaccination will be made mandatory for frontline health staff by April, the Health Secretary Sajid Javid has announced.
Mr Javid said the flu jab would not be compulsory, and that there will be medical exemptions for the Covid vaccine.
Staff who have direct, face-to-face contact with patients while providing care, as well as ancillary staff such as receptionists, will have until 1 April 2022 to get both doses of the Covid vaccine unless they are exempt.
This will apply across the CQC-regulated health and social care sector, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
Mr Javid said: ‘Vaccines save lives and patient safety is paramount. Many of the people being treated in hospitals or cared for at home are the most vulnerable to Covid-19. We have a responsibility to give patients and staff the best possible protection.
‘We have consulted closely with the sector and will introduce new regulations to ensure people working in healthcare are vaccinated from next spring.’
NHS chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, added: ‘The NHS has always been clear that staff should get the life-saving Covid vaccination to protect themselves, their loved ones and their patients and the overwhelming majority have already done so.
‘Working with NHS organisations, we will continue to support staff who have not yet received the vaccination to take up the evergreen offer.’
So far around 90% of NHS workers have had both doses of the Covid vaccine, with over 103,000 NHS trust workers yet to be reported as fully vaccinated.
In response to the policy, BMA council chair, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said: ‘While the BMA has serious concerns about making vaccination mandatory, we’re pleased that the Government has, as we recommended, decided to delay the policy of mandatory vaccination for Covid-19 until spring next year, and released both its workforce impact assessment and it’s equality impact assessment.
‘Given the current staffing crisis in the NHS and the possible implications of trying to introduce such measures in the midst of winter pressures, waiting until April is sensible, but it’s equally important that the Government is aware of the consequences this policy could have even after the delay – and that clear steps are taken to mitigate this risk.’
He added: ‘We’re pleased that Government has listened to us regarding the flu vaccine by deciding to not make it mandatory for healthcare workers. The flu vaccination campaign has been successful at increasing coverage year-on-year with a voluntary approach and we expect this trend to continue.’
It comes as the deadline for care home workers to be fully vaccinated is this week (11 November), after mandatory vaccinations were introduced for the sector earlier this year.
It follows calls for the mandatory vaccination policy to be dropped or else face losing tens of thousands of key workers in the NHS.
In August, the DHSC instructed care home managers and service providers that they would be expected to cover employee shortfalls caused by the mandatory vaccination policy.