Vaccination against flu and COVID-19 could become a condition of employment for all frontline health and care staff under proposals set out in a consultation to be launched on 9 September.
The six-week consultation will consider how broadly any requirement should apply - and could ultimately be enforced across all health and social care staff who come into contact with 'patients and people receiving care'.
A government statement announcing the consultation said if the plans go ahead, it would mean that 'only those who are fully vaccinated, unless medically exempt, could be deployed to deliver health and care services'.
Official figures show that 92% of NHS staff have had their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 88% both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Polling published by the BMA showed that among GPs, around nine in 10 had received both doses as far back as March this year.
However, the government says there is significant variation in uptake between trusts, with the proportion of staff fully vaccinated ranging from 78% to 94% across the country.
On flu vaccination, officials said 76% of NHS staff received a jab last year nationally - although in some areas this falls to just over half.
The government statement said there was a 'longstanding precedent for vaccination requirements in NHS roles' - citing the requirement for surgeons to have received hepatitis B vaccination.
Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid said: 'Many patients being treated in hospitals and other clinical settings are most at risk of suffering serious consequences of COVID-19, and we must do what we can to protect them.
'It’s so clear to see the impact vaccines have against respiratory viruses which can be fatal to the vulnerable, and that’s why we’re exploring mandatory vaccines for both COVID-19 and flu.
'We will consider the responses to the consultation carefully but, whatever happens, I urge the small minority of NHS staff who have not yet been jabbed to consider getting vaccinated – for their own health as well as those around them.'
Co-chair of the BMA public health medicine committee Dr Penelope Toff said: 'The notions of making vaccines compulsory for anyone, including healthcare workers, is very complex and raises many ethical, legal and practical questions.
'While some healthcare workers have conditions in their employment contracts which require them to be immunised, for example against Hepatitis B, to work in certain environments, a proposal for compulsory vaccination of healthcare staff against COVID-19 and flu has far-reaching implications.
'It’s also important to understand that being vaccinated against COVID-19 doesn’t always prevent a person passing on the infection, so that when rates are high, other preventative measure, such as masks would also be needed.
'Both COVID-19 and flu vaccine uptake among doctors remains high but that there are also small numbers of staff who are unable or unwilling to have the vaccines. There are a number of reasons for this and it’s important that all views are taken into consideration in this consultation.'
The government has already made it a requirement for staff working in the adult care sector, inlcuding GPs and other primary care staff who visit care homes, to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 following a consultation.