NHS England, Public Health England, the Department of Health and NHS Improvement have unveiled a series of measures to manage winter pressures.
Intensified preparations include:
- Providing free flu vaccines for hundreds of thousands of care home staff at a cost of up to £10 million as well as increasing the number of jabs for young children in schools and vulnerable people.
- Directing NHS trusts to ensure they make vaccines readily available to staff and record why those who choose to opt out of the programme do so.
- Writing to doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers reminding them of their professional duty to protect patients by being vaccinated.
- Setting up a new National Emergency Pressure Panel to provide independent clinical advice on system risk and an appropriate regional and national response.
- The biggest expansion in training for A&E consultants ever with hundreds more doctors over the next four years and other healthcare staff.
Many people with flu show no symptoms, meaning healthcare workers who feel fit and healthy can unwittingly infect vulnerable patients. Getting vaccinated is the best way to stop the spread of influenza and prevent deaths. It can also ease pressures that a heavy flu outbreak would place on services such as doctors’ surgeries and busy hospital wards, like those seen recently in Australia and New Zealand.
NHS staff are already offered the vaccination for free to protect patients and the public. This winter, in recognition of how important this is, NHS England will extend free jabs to up to more than one million care home workers and has set aside £10m to fund it.
At the same time, health chiefs will direct all trusts to ramp up programmes to ensure that nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals get the flu jab – protecting themselves and their patients this winter.
Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England’s national medical director, said: “This is a timely reminder to employers and staff that we all have a professional responsibility to protect ourselves, and by doing so better protect our patients and reducing the pressure on services.”
Chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said: “The harsh reality is that flu can kill and the best way to protect yourself is to get the jab. With more people eligible than ever before and the vaccine available in more locations, people should protect themselves and those around them from flu. Taking a few minutes to get the jab could save your life this winter.”
This action comes alongside a significant expansion of the national flu vaccination programme for key groups, aiming to offer the vaccine to over 21 million people. The national drive marks the start of Stay Well This Winter, an initiative from Public Health England and NHS England to help the most vulnerable people prepare for winter and avoid having to visit hospital due to common winter illnesses. Changes include:
As part of intensified cross-NHS winter preparations a new National Emergency Pressure Panel will also be established. The panel will be made up of senior NHS England, NHS Improvement and Public Health England Directors, including Sir Bruce Keogh, who will chair it, with some Royal College leaders also invited to join.
Finally, to tackle staffing pressures within emergency departments, a new workforce plan, developed jointly by NHS Improvement, NHS England, Health Education England and the Royal College of Emergency Medicine has also been published. It will increase the number of people starting emergency medicine training next year and for the three years after that, specific additional development for all emergency medicine trainees, targeted support to improve the clinical education environment in struggling trusts and central investment to develop the role of the advanced clinical practitioner workforce in emergency departments.