Pharmacists working in hospitals and general practice in England may need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu to continue working on the frontline, proposals set out by the government have said.
An open consultation, published on 9 September 2021, says the requirements would apply to all staff providing services regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), “unless medically exempt”.
The CQC regulates services provided in general practice and in hospital, but not those provided in community pharmacy.
But representatives for hospital pharmacists have warned that these proposals “could significantly impact on patient care” if large numbers of staff refuse vaccinations.
The consultation comes after the government implemented regulations in August 2021, requiring health and social care staff working in care homes to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 from 11 November 2021, unless they are exempt.
The government is now considering whether to extend this statutory requirement for COVID-19 vaccination to frontline healthcare staff in other CQC-regulated health and care settings, and also whether to include the flu vaccine in the requirements.
“This would ensure that vaccination coverage protects vulnerable people and individual workers in health and social care settings including, but not limited to, hospitals, GP practices and also in a person’s home,” the consultation document says.
In a statement to The Pharmaceutical Journal, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “The consultation proposes that, if introduced, requirements would apply to frontline health and care workers — those with face-to-face contact with patients and clients through the delivery of services as part of a CQC-regulated activity”.
“It would mean only those workers that are vaccinated could be deployed (or those with a legitimate medical exemption) to deliver those services.”
“Any CQC-regulated pharmacy, such as hospital pharmacies, would be in scope,” they added.
The consultation document adds that any statutory requirement would include exemptions on medical grounds, and the government would “consider the least burdensome way for people to demonstrate that they are medically exempt from the COVID-19 and/or flu vaccination”.
However, Ewan Maule, vice president of the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists (GHP), said the GHP is “opposed to mandatory vaccination, and believe that strong encouragement rather than compulsion is the answer”.
“Should significant numbers of staff refuse to get vaccinated and be redeployed to non-patient facing roles, this could significantly impact on patient care and the wellbeing of other staff during what will be a very difficult winter for pharmacists working in all sectors,” Maule said.
“As scientists and healthcare professionals, we have a duty to counter the malignant, incorrect and inflammatory claims of the anti-vaccination movement.
“Making martyrs of individuals who do not get vaccinated has the potential to cause harm to the overall vaccination programme and subsequently cause greater risk to the public and patients.”
Paul Day, director of the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) and the PDA Union, said that the PDA “strongly encourages its members to participate in the vaccination programme”.
But, Day continued, pharmacists who are medically exempt from the vaccine must be “considered and not unfairly disadvantaged by any approach”.
“The PDA also understands there may be a small number of pharmacists who, for reasons other than medical exemption, do not wish to have the vaccination. As a trade union, we will support those individuals that are our members with any implications for their employment and career from such a policy.”
According to a statement from the government, around 88% of NHS trust staff have received both doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Meanwhile, national flu vaccination rates in the health service have increased from 14% in 2002 to 76% in 2020.
The six-week consultation closes on 22 October 2021.