Healthcare workers urged to have flu jab

The health and social care service’s most senior clinicians and leaders have urged their frontline colleagues to get their annual flu jab as soon as possible, as the first vaccine deliveries start to reach local employers.

This comes alongside an expanded flu vaccination programme for both the public and frontline health and social care workers, with a record 30 million people eligible for a free vaccine this year. Frontline staff are at higher risk of catching flu due to their contact with patients and those they care for.

With the first batches of this year’s vaccines arriving from this week, hospitals and other local NHS organisations across England will be starting to run drop-in clinics and promotional activity with the aim of ensuring that every single eligible member of staff is able to get it this year.

There is also an expanded offer 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 than ever for them to get their jab.

This approach means all frontline social care workers are able to get a flu vaccine to protect themselves, their patients and the people they care for including personal assistants for the first time this year.

Staff who get flu require time off work, putting pressure on services at what can be the busiest time of the year any year. Research suggests that a 10% increase in NHS staff vaccination reduces healthcare worker sickness absence by about 10%.

However, some infections only result in mild or unnoticeable symptoms – meaning staff can then unknowingly pass the virus to vulnerable people they come into contact with.

Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for England, has penned an open letter alongside the NHS’s most senior clinicians to more than a million frontline NHS staff imploring them to help protect themselves and the vulnerable patients they might come into contact with from flu, highlighting the extraordinary circumstances this winter with COVID-19 still circulating.

She commented: “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. 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.”

Overall, 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.