Senior clinicians and leaders have urged their frontline colleagues across the health and care sectors to get their annual flu jab as soon as possible, with the first vaccine deliveries due to start reaching local employers this week.
The calls come alongside an expanded flu vaccination programme for both public and frontline health and social care workers, with a record 30 million people eligible for a free vaccine this year.
Due to their contact with patients and those they care for frontline staff are at a higher risk of catching flu.
Hospitals and other local NHS organisations across England are set to begin running drop-in clinics and promotional activity in the coming weeks, after the first batches of this year’s vaccines start to arrive. The health service is aiming to ensure every single eligible member of staff is able to get a flu vaccination this year.
An expanded offer has been put in place this year for frontline social care workers who are all eligible to get a free flu vaccination from a GP or pharmacy. Pharmacists are able to deliver the vaccination to residential care staff where they work to make it easier to access the flu jab.
Protecting against flu in health and care staff is vital, as it can lead to staff absences or, for those who suffer infections resulting in only mild or unnoticeable symptoms, unintended transmission to vulnerable people they come into contact with.
Research has suggested there could be as high as a 10% reduction in healthcare worker sickness absence rates if we saw a 10% increase in NHS staff vaccination. With annual winter pressures and increased absence rates as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, limiting avoidable staff sickness in key frontline health and care roles will be vital.
Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for England, has penned an open letter alongside the NHS’ most senior clinicians to more than one million frontline NHS staff, imploring them to help protect themselves and vulnerable patients they might come into contact with from flu, highlighting the extraordinary circumstances health and care services are expected to face this winter with Covid-19 still present.
Ms May said: “Every year we urge our colleagues to protect themselves, their families and their patients by taking up the free flu jab, and every year more and more do – but this year’s call is the most vital we have ever made.
“The flu has a serious impact on the health of thousands of people every winter, and with the added risk of Covid-19 this year the NHS needs as many of its staff as possible to be fighting fit over the coming months.
“And even more importantly, just as we are making every effort to stop the spread of coronavirus in our hospitals, so we must also do the same for flu. Getting a vaccine is the single most effective way every member of our staff can contribute to this.”
The letter was co-signed by NHS National Medical Director, Professor Stephen Powis, Dr Nikki Kanani, Medical Director of Primary Care, Chief Allied Health Professions Officer, Suzanne Rastrick, Chief Midwifery Officer, Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, Chief People Officer Prerana Issar and Chief Pharmaceutical Officer, Dr Keith Ridge.
A record 74.3% of doctors, nurses, midwives, therapists and all NHS staff who have direct contact with patients took up the vaccine through their employer last year, with most local NHS employers achieving 75% or higher.
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, said: “This year has seen an incredible effort from our doctors, our nurses, our carers and everyone working on the frontline to protect us from coronavirus. Now getting a free flu jab this winter will protect them, as well as their patients and the people they care for, at a critical time for our country.
“Last year saw more health care workers than ever before getting their flu jab. This year we can go further so that all of our brilliant frontline NHS and social care staff can get the flu vaccine as standard – so that together we can meet the unique challenge we face this winter.”