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NHS urges 1.4m staff to have flu jab to reduce risk of epidemic
NHS bosses are writing to all 1.4 million staff to say they must have the winter flu jab as soon as possible to reduce the risk of them infecting patients who might die.
Those who decline the jab will have to tell the NHS trust that employs them why, and it will have to record their reasons, as part of a bid to drive up what the NHS admits are “disappointing” staff take-up rates.
The move comes as the chairman of NHS England admitted on Thursday that health service chiefs were “more scared than we have ever been” about how bad winter could be. There is a strong likelihood of hospitals being inundated with flu sufferers, Prof Sir Malcolm Grant said.
The prospect of a flu epidemic presented a real crisis, added Grant. NHS leaders are seriously concerned that Britain could be hit by its biggest flu outbreak in years this winter. There is acute anxiety because Australia and New Zealand have been experiencing their worst flu season for many years with struggling to cope.
NHS bosses have got tough on staff’s jab uptake as part of a new series of “intensified cross-NHS winter preparations” in a bid to reduce the estimated 8,000 annual deaths from flu in England and Wales.
They are sending out letters to healthcare workers across England urging them to get vaccinated as soon as possible, to reduce the risk of them passing on the flu virus to vulnerable patients, especially older people and those with breathing problems such as asthma, pneumonia and emphysema. It is staff’s professional duty to have the jab, they say.
The letter says: “As winter approaches it is worth reminding ourselves that flu can have serious and even fatal consequences.
“Healthcare workers, as members of the general population, are susceptible to flu. When coupled with the potential for a third of flu cases being transmitted by asymptomatic individuals, it means patients are at particular risk.”
Although a record proportion of NHS staff received the jab last year – 63% – in some trusts as few as 20% of staff took up the offer of free vaccination at work.
In another previously unused tactic, NHS England bosses are writing to all 234 NHS trusts telling them to do much more to ensure staff have the jab. “We require each NHS organisation to ensure that each and every eligible member of staff is personally offered the flu vaccine, and then either signs the consent form or states if they decline to do so,” that letter says.
Grant, speaking at the national children and adult services conference in Bournemouth, said: “We face winter better prepared than we have ever been, but more scared than we have ever been.
“We have the strong likelihood of hospitals being inundated with people suffering flu.”
The NHS is expanding its £237m winter flu campaign by offering free vaccination for the first time to over 1 million people who work in care homes, at a cost of £10m, and also to the 670,000 eight- and nine-year-old pupils in school year four. Those aged two, three and four will be offered a flu vaccination in the form of a nasal spray rather than an injection, however.
In all, 21 million people in England will be offered free immunisation on the NHS. They include pregnant women and anyone over 65 and anyone deemed at clinical risk, for example due to asthma.
“This move to help keep care workers stay well during flu season is a really positive step by the NHS. Not only will it help to protect thousands of care home residents from getting sick, but it sends a strong signal about the importance of social care staff in providing an integrated health and care service,” said Imelda Redmond, the national director of the campaign group Healthwatch England.
Last winter, 133 people died as a direct result of flu after being treated in an intensive care or high-dependency unit in England, Public Health England said.
The NHS has also responded to the widespread shortage of A&E doctors by deciding to expand the number of doctors training to become specialists in emergency medicine from 300 to 400 a year for four years from next year. Currently, about 6,300 different grades of medics work in A&E units across England.