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RCN delegates reject compulsory winter flu jab

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Nurses have rejected the idea of requiring all nursing staff and students to have the annual winter flu jab.

The controversial issue was debated yesterday evening at the Royal College of Nursing annual Congress, amid sometimes chaotic scenes.

The RCN Suffolk Branch submitted a resolution asking the RCN council to “lobby for all nursing staff and students to be required to have an annual flu vaccination”, sparked by the traditionally poor take up of the jab by NHS staff.

The branch also called for “it to be provided free of charge”, following problems in recent years for students to have the jab, often due to disagreement between trusts and universities on who should pay for it.

The resolution was heavily defeated, with around 90% against it and 10% in favour.

RCN Suffolk had highlighted that the “Green Book” guideline on vaccination recommends annual flu immunisation for health and social care staff “directly involved in the care of patients or clients”.

The branch also cited a Nursing Times story from November last year, which reported that one-in-four student nurses were being prevented from getting vaccinated against seasonal flu because both NHS organisations and GPs were refusing them the immunisation.

Proposing the resolution, Tracey Risebrow said requiring all nursing staff to receive the annual flu vaccination “is not only to protect ourselves and families, it is to protect our patients”.

She said: “It seems we can’t kill our patients with chicken pox and measles, but we can with flu.”

In the following debate, the majority of delegates spoke against the resolution, saying that nurses should a choice on whether to have the vaccine or not.

Helen Williams, a member of the college’s UK safety representatives’ committee, said: “It’s about making an informed decision.”

However, some delegates called for the wording of the resolution to be altered, suggesting that its two sections – on the requirement to have the jab but also making it free – were confusing.

Other delegates called for the resolution to be referred to the RCN’s council to decide, but this move was rejected.

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