Frontline NHS staff who refuse to have the flu vaccination this winter may be redeployed in order to protect patient safety and reduce the spread of the virus, the NHS has warned.
Under plans revealed by NHS Improvement, which oversees NHS trusts and independent providers that offer NHS-funded care, hospital staff will be required to have the vaccination or be prepared to explain why they have refused.
Staff who are not vaccinated may be moved away from wards where patients might be more at risk of getting flu than usual.
NHS Improvement said that although flu vaccination rates among NHS staff have been rising, only 68.7% had the vaccination last winter, despite it being the worst flu season since 2010/11. The best three trusts achieved more than 90% uptake, while the worst had just 38.9% of staff vaccinated.
It wants to achieve “near universal” uptake of the vaccine by frontline staff this year, in order to protect patients and help reduce the spread of the virus.
NHS and social workers are offered the vaccination free of charge, while GP surgeries, dental practices and pharmacies are expected to offer it to their staff.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of representative body NHS Employers, said: “The flu vaccine is the best protection staff have against flu. It is important that frontline staff are offered the flu vaccine to protect not just themselves but also patients and everyone else around them.
“The flu fighter team at NHS Employers will continue to support employers across the NHS with their local vaccination campaigns and help with ways to promote the vaccine throughout the winter season.”
Research published in July by the International Longevity Centre UK suggested that widespread use of the flu vaccination could save the economy up to £28.9 million in averted sick day costs. It helps prevent up to 626,000 cases of influenza in England per year.