There is a risk that NHS staff who remain unvaccinated against coronavirus could have this used against them in a fitness-to-practise procedure, an NHS England director has warned.
Jonathan Leach, medical director of the covid-19 vaccination programme, was discussing the role of the nursing and medical regulators on staff vaccination in a webinar hosted by NHSE.
Dr Leach confirmed that in the minds of the regulators, someone choosing not to be vaccinated in isolation is not a reason for a fitness-to-practise referral.
He said: “However, and this is a personal comment, I think this really brings in line to where we are with other vaccines, which we would expect other professionals to have.
“If I choose not to be vaccinated against Hep B and as consequence one of my patients then contracted that – and there was a fitness to practise procedure – that could be used as part and parcel of that overall procedure.”
The government announced earlier this month it would consult on dropping controversial laws which would have made covid vaccination a “condition of deployment” for patient facing roles in the NHS. It also drew back from its plans to put unvaccinated staff on notice of dismissal from 4 February.
At the same time as announcing the U-turn, the health and social care secretary indicated rules enforced by professional regulators and NHS employers on vaccination might be strengthened. The government has since confirmed a separate consultation will consider whether to update the regulators’ code of practice to “strengthen requirements in relation to covid-19”.
According to the General Medical Council, the regulator does not consider solely turning down vaccination enough to form a fitness-to-practise referral. It has said it considers doctors to have a “professional duty to protect patients” and to be “immunised against common serious communicable diseases”.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council has reiterated its code and standards, which its chief executive Andrea Sutcliffe said make clear professionals have “a responsibility to maintain their own level of health, taking all reasonable personal precautions to avoid potential health risks to colleagues and people receiving care”.
“We continue to encourage nursing and midwifery professionals to be vaccinated against covid-19,” she added.
A question was submitted to the webinar, which was summed up by the chief nurse for England Ruth May, about whether regulators should come out “more explicitly in support of vaccination.”
“I’ll take that up with Andrea [Sutcliffe],” Ms May confirmed.
HSJ has reported frustration from senior leaders about the impact the VCOD mandate deadline has had on relationships with staff, and this was reiterated by Ms May in the webinar, who described how it has shown “fractures” within teams and “pressured local leaders”.
Since the U-turn the government has published its consultation documents, which consider the impact of not making covid-19 vaccinations mandatory among staff.