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National chiefs tell staff covid vaccine is ‘professional responsibility’

Published on: 7 Feb 2022

The most senior clinical leaders in the NHS have written to staff telling them it is their professional responsibility to be vaccinated against covid-19, in the wake of the government abandoning plans to make it a legal requirement.

A letter signed by eight senior clinicians, including chief nursing officer for England Ruth May and chief medical officer for England Chris Whitty, has reminded staff that an aspect of their commitment to patients is “the professional responsibility to reduce the risk of infection to others as far as possible”.

“Getting vaccinated against diseases which can be passed person to person in healthcare settings is part of that responsibility,” said the letter, which was sent today.

The government last week announced it would consult on dropping controversial laws which would have made covid vaccination a “condition of deployment” to “patient facing” roles in the NHS. It cancelled previous plans to put unvaccinated staff on notice of dismissal from 4 February. The rule will also be removed for social care. 

At the same time as announcing the U-turn, which angered many NHS leaders, the health and social care secretary indicated rules enforced by professional regulators and NHS employers on vaccination might be strengthened. Sajid Javid has written to the regulators to underline this, it was reported at the weekend (Times subscription required).

The letter to staff leaves it unclear about whether there will be any new enforcement of this “professional responsibility” by regulators or trusts.

It says ”Questions of professional responsibility and legal mandation are separate. Mandation is rightly for ministers and Parliament. The professional responsibility, which is for the professions, predated discussion of mandation and is widely agreed by professional bodies, colleges, regulators and others.”

It said: “The public reasonably expect it of those who care for them or their vulnerable relatives as it is one of the simplest things that we, as healthcare workers, can do to protect patients.”

The letter said covid vaccines were safe and provide a very high degree of protection from serious disease and from being infected.

“We all know that this protection from infection is not absolute, just as almost every treatment you provide improves the chances of, but does not guarantee a good outcome,” it said. “Professional healthcare is about maximising the chance of a good outcome.”

It stressed that while infection is still possible after vaccination, it reduces the risk.

“If you are not infected you cannot pass the virus on to your patients,” it said. “There is now good evidence that being vaccinated provides additional protection to those who have had a prior infection from being infected again.”

It urged staff with concerns to get advice from “people with particular knowledge about vaccines, your employers or occupational health to talk through the risk and benefit to you as well as your patients and colleagues.”

It is thought that tens of thousands of NHS staff across England are still thought to have had no vaccine or to have an “unknown” vaccine status.