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Occupational health staff told not to get involved in decisions on mandatory covid vaccination

Published on: 7 Jan 2022

Occupational health professionals should avoid employment and management matters related to unvaccinated NHS staff, new guidance has warned.

The Faculty of Occupational Medicine guidance, issued today, comes as trusts are considering their options of how to approach patient-facing staff who remain unvaccinated, including their potential redeployment or dismissal.

However, HSJ understands some occupational health practitioners are concerned they may become entangled in difficult ethical issues, such as the vaccination status of individual employees, or disciplinary processes.

Today’s FOM guidance said: “There is no scope for occupational health practitioners to provide an opinion on medical exemptions, whether to confirm or refute them…

“Redeployment, dismissal and other employment consequences of vaccine refusal by a worker, within the scope of the proposed regulations, are entirely employment and management matters, and not an area in which occupational health should be involved.”

It added: “They should [also] not be involved in giving information to employers about the vaccine status of individual employees without their consent.”

Late last year, the government stated all patient-facing staff – including non-clinical staff who have contact with patients, such as cleaners, porters, and receptionists – would need to have two doses of covid vaccine by this April.

Staff who have not yet received any doses will need to have their first dose by 3 February, to allow for enough time between the two jabs. 

FOM president Steve Nimmo said: “When the programme is implemented, occupational health professionals should be mindful of ethical and consent issues, and be careful not to be associated with any disciplinary process.”

The FOM said that, although occupational health is not expected to have a “significant role” in the implementation of the new policy, senior staff “may be well placed to contribute to strategic discussions within their organisation”. 

This includes discussions about promoting vaccination and risk assessments of those who are unvaccinated.

NHS England published the first part of its guidance on mandatory vaccination in December. HSJ understands “phase two” will be released next week.