Expert advice

Legal advice: Do I have a professional duty to have the flu vaccination?

As NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh calls for a debate about mandatory flu vaccination for front-line NHS staff, legal expert Marc Cornock outlines your professional responsibilities as a nurse

As NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh calls for a debate about mandatory flu vaccination for front-line NHS staff, legal expert Marc Cornock outlines your professional responsibilities as a nurse

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Picture: Tim George

Your professional duty is enshrined in the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) code, which aims to ensure your practice is safe and that your patients are your priority.

One tenet of the Code relevant to having the flu vaccination is that you must prioritise people, with the Code stating that you ‘put the interests of people using or needing nursing or midwifery services first’. Another is that you must promote professionalism and trust.

The flu vaccine is promoted to frontline healthcare workers for two main reasons. First, to ensure staff are not sick as a result of flu, which puts extra pressure on colleagues who are not ill.

Protecting patients

Second, to protect the vulnerable people nurses come into contact with, both patients and relatives, who could be at increased risk of severe illness as a result of contracting flu.

It has been suggested that it is a nurse’s professional duty to have the flu vaccination. The underlying principle behind this is that having the vaccination helps ensure patient safety, and nurses who do this are putting their patients’ needs above their own needs or concerns.

From a legal perspective, a professional duty is assessed by reference to what others would do in the same circumstances. This means that if all your colleagues had the flu vaccination and you didn’t, you could be seen to have failed in your duty.

Evidence based decisions

The other side to fulfilling your professional duty is to ensure any action you take is evidence-based and can stand up to logical scrutiny.

You therefore need to weigh up all the information available and make a decision about whether, based on your circumstances, it is rational for you to accept or refuse the flu vaccination.

Ultimately, the decision is yours at present, as you cannot be forced to have the flu vaccination. But if you decide not to have the vaccination you should be prepared to provide reasons to your employer, who is entitled to ask and record who has and has not had the vaccination.


Marc Cornock is a qualified nurse, academic lawyer and senior lecturer at the Open University

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