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England’s most senior nurse has called on the NHS’ million-plus frontline workers to protect themselves and their patients this year by taking up their free flu jab.
Ruth May, the Chief Nursing Officer for England, is spearheading this year’s drive to ensure that as many NHS staff as possible get vaccinated against seasonal flu – meaning they are both less likely to need time off over the busy winter period, and less likely to pass on the virus to vulnerable patients.
Since September, hospitals and other healthcare settings across the country have been laying on special activities designed to highlight the importance of the flu vaccine, and celebrate those staff who choose to protect themselves and their patients.
A record 70% of doctors, nurses, midwives and other 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.
Ruth has been joined in writing an open letter to NHS staff by other heads of professions like the NHS National Medical Director, Professor Stephen Powis, Chief Allied Health Professions Officer, Suzanne Rastrick, Chief Midwifery Officer, Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, and Chief Pharmaceutical Officer, Dr Keith Ridge.
In it they urge every member of the NHS’ growing frontline workforce to work together to achieve even higher level of coverage this year.
Ruth said: “Each and every one of us who works or has worked on the front line – whether in hospitals, GP surgeries, ambulance trusts or in the community – knows that every winter flu has a serious impact on the health of thousands of people.
“Getting your free, quick jab is the single most effective way of preventing flu, so my message to my colleagues is simple: let’s do our duty, and take this easy but important step to protect our patients, and ourselves, this winter.”
Frontline staff are at higher risk of catching flu due to their contact with patients.
Although the worst cases require time off work, more than half of infections only result in mild or unnoticeable symptoms.
However, those individuals can still pass on the virus to vulnerable people they come into contact with, which is why vaccination of healthcare workers is a critical part of how the NHS prepares for winter.
Flu-related staff sickness can also affect services at what can be the busiest time of year, particularly for A&Es.
Recently published evidence suggests a 10% increase in vaccination may be associated with as much as a 10% fall in sickness absence.
Overall uptake levels have increased every year since 2015/16, but there can be variation from trust to trust.
The more successful hospitals employed innovative methods to reach staff, including holding roving clinics and using small incentives, such as badge stickers, to reinforce positive messages.
Those organisations with the lowest uptake levels last winter have been required to buddy up with one of these high-performing trusts to learn from their success, and to report on their progress weekly to ensure it is given the priority it deserves.