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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 week.
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.
Co-signed by the 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, the letter also asks staff to make a special point this year of promoting the vaccine to their patients – more of whom than ever will be eligible for it on the NHS this year.
Ruth 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. 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.
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.”
Professor Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at Public Health England said: “If you’re a frontline health or care professional, getting your flu jab is the most effective way to protect yourself and those you care for from what can be a serious and even fatal illness.
“This year, it is more important than ever to get your flu jab with COVID-19 still in circulation. Flu can require hospitalisation, which would add pressure on the NHS and social care when they may also be dealing with cases of COVID-19.
“Getting your flu jab is easy and takes just a few minutes, but it could save someone’s life.”