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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 percent 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 percent or higher.
Ruth has been joined in writing an open letter to NHS staff by other heads of professions urging every member of the NHS 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 emergency departments.
Recently published evidence suggests a 10 percent increase in vaccination may be associated with as much as a 10 percent 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.
Vivienne Stimpson, director of nursing for the East of England region of NHS England and NHS Improvement said: “The shorter nights and cold breezes remind us that the winter flu season is upon us, and so too comes the need for vaccination. Preventing winter flu is vital for our frontline staff and getting the jab is the most effective way to protect yourself, your patients and your families at home.
“I understand how very busy our colleagues are in community, primary and acute care settings across the region, but my message to staff and managers is to put aside those few minutes of your day to get your free jab. It could save a life.”
- In September, Public Health England launched a new campaign to encourage frontline health and social care workers to get their annual flu jab.
- The campaign – Time to get your flu jab – encourages staff to get their jab, reminding them that it is one of the most effective ways to protect themselves from flu and reduce their risk of passing it on to others, especially groups at higher risk of flu complications such as pregnant women and older people.
- A range of free campaign materials are now available to help encourage staff to get their jab. These can be downloaded or printed from PHE’s Campaign Resource Centre and many can be tailored and adapted to suit each setting’s needs. Materials include posters, leaflets, sticker artwork, social media tools, payslip inserts and a communications toolkit.