RCN calls for clarity about management of staff who refuse flu vaccine

College questions plans to redeploy such staff to ‘lower-risk’ areas

The RCN has warned that a plan to move NHS staff who refuse the flu vaccine to ‘lower-risk’ departments in itself ‘carries its own risks’.

NHS Employers says it is ‘vital that staff in high-risk areas protect themselves from flu’.
Picture: iStock

The college was questioning plans by NHS England and NHS Improvement to cope with winter pressures in the health service, which recommend the redeployment of staff if necessary.

Last winter, only 68.7% of front-line healthcare workers received the flu vaccination.

Limiting flu exposure 

A letter from NHS England and NHS Improvement, which was sent to chief executives of NHS trusts, and signed by senior NHS leaders, states that more robust steps should be taken to limit the exposure of patients to flu in ‘higher-risk’ departments such as haematology, oncology, bone marrow transplant services, neonatal intensive care units and special care baby units.

The letter adds: ‘In these higher-risk areas, staff should confirm to their clinical director / head of nursing / head of therapy whether or not they have been vaccinated.

‘This information should be held locally so that trusts can take appropriate steps to maintain the overall safety of the service, including considering changing the deployment of staffing within clinical environments if that is compatible with maintaining the safe operation of the service.’

But RCN England director Tom Sandford said the college wants more detail about how the redeployment of staff will be managed: ‘We believe increasing vaccination coverage among staff is predominantly about education and availability; redeploying staff carries its own risks, and we need to understand how employers will manage this.’

NHS England chief nursing officer Jane Cummings extolled the benefits of vaccination: ‘By getting vaccinated against flu, healthcare workers can protect themselves, their families, colleagues and patients, making sure we have a healthy workforce and helping to reduce the pressure on services over the winter.’

A spokesperson for NHS Employers, which runs an annual ‘flu fighter’ campaign, said it would continue to support local efforts to increase vaccination uptake: ‘It is vital that staff in high-risk areas protect themselves and their patients from the serious harm of flu.

‘We will continue to support flu teams across the NHS to achieve maximum uptake of the flu vaccination for their healthcare workers.’

Further information 

NHS Employers’ flu fighter campaign

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