All NHS staff are told they must have the flu jab

Work­ers who refuse of­fer will have to give a rea­son Bosses are ‘more scared than ever’ of an epi­demic

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - De­nis Camp­bell and David Brindle

NHS bosses are writ­ing to all 1.4 mil­lion staff to say they must have the win­ter flu jab as soon as pos­si­ble to re­duce the risk of in­fect­ing pa­tients who might die.

Those who de­cline the jab will have to tell the NHS trust that em­ploys them why, and it will have to record their rea­sons, as part of an at­tempt to drive up what the NHS ad­mits are “dis­ap­point­ing” staff take-up rates.

The move comes as the chair­man of NHS Eng­land said health ser­vice chiefs were “more scared than we have ever been” about how bad the num­ber of flu cases could be this win­ter. There is a strong like­li­hood of hos­pi­tals be­ing in­un­dated with suf­fer­ers, Prof Sir Mal­colm Grant said yes­ter­day.

The prospect of a flu epi­demic pre­sented a real cri­sis, he added. NHS lead­ers are se­ri­ously con­cerned that Bri­tain could be hit by its big­gest flu out­break in years. There is acute anx­i­ety be­cause Aus­tralia and New Zealand have been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing their worst flu sea­son for many years, with hos­pi­tals strug­gling to cope.

NHS bosses’ get tough ap­proach on staff vac­ci­na­tion is part of a se­ries of “in­ten­si­fied cross-NHS win­ter prepa­ra­tions” aimed at re­duc­ing the es­ti­mated 8,000 an­nual flu deaths in Eng­land and Wales.

They are send­ing out let­ters to health­care work­ers across Eng­land urg­ing them to get vac­ci­nated as soon as pos­si­ble, to re­duce the risk of them pass­ing on the flu virus to vul­ner­a­ble pa­tients, es­pe­cially older peo­ple and those with breath­ing prob­lems such as asthma, pneu­mo­nia and em­phy­sema. It is their pro­fes­sional duty to have the jab, the let­ters state.

They say: “As win­ter ap­proaches it is worth re­mind­ing our­selves that flu can have se­ri­ous and even fa­tal con­se­quences.

“Health­care work­ers, as mem­bers of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion, are sus­cep­ti­ble to flu. When cou­pled with the po­ten­tial for a third of flu cases be­ing trans­mit­ted by asymp­to­matic in­di­vid­u­als, it means pa­tients are at par­tic­u­lar risk.” Although a record 63% of NHS staff re­ceived the jab last year, in some trusts as few as 20% of staff took up the of­fer of a free vac­ci­na­tion at work.

In another pre­vi­ously un­used tac­tic, NHS Eng­land bosses are writ­ing to all 234 trusts telling them to do much more to en­sure staff have the jab. “We re­quire each NHS or­gan­i­sa­tion to en­sure that each and ev­ery el­i­gi­ble mem­ber of staff is per­son­ally of­fered the flu vac­cine, and then ei­ther signs the con­sent form or states if they de­cline to do so,” the let­ter says.

Grant, speak­ing at the na­tional chil­dren and adult ser­vices con­fer­ence in Bournemouth, said: “We face win­ter bet­ter pre­pared than we have ever been, but more scared than we have ever been.

“We have the strong like­li­hood of hos­pi­tals be­ing in­un­dated with peo­ple suf­fer­ing flu.”

The NHS is ex­pand­ing its £237m win­ter flu cam­paign by of­fer­ing free vac­ci­na­tion for the first time to over 1 mil­lion peo­ple who work in care homes, at a cost of £10m, and also to the 670,000 eight- and nineyear-old pupils in school year four. Those aged two, three and four will be of­fered a flu vac­ci­na­tion in the form of a nasal spray rather than an in­jec­tion.

In all, 21 mil­lion peo­ple in Eng­land will be of­fered free im­mu­ni­sa­tion on the NHS. They in­clude preg­nant women and any­one over 65 and any­one deemed at clin­i­cal risk, for ex­am­ple due to asthma.

“This move to help care work­ers stay well dur­ing flu sea­son is a re­ally pos­i­tive step by the NHS. Not only will it help to pro­tect thou­sands of care home res­i­dents from get­ting sick, but it sends a strong sig­nal about the im­por­tance of so­cial care staff in pro­vid­ing an in­te­grated health and care ser­vice,” said Imelda Red­mond, the na­tional di­rec­tor of the cam­paign group Health­watch Eng­land.

Last win­ter, 133 peo­ple died as a di­rect re­sult of flu af­ter be­ing treated in an in­ten­sive care or high-de­pen­dency unit in Eng­land, Pub­lic Health Eng­land said.

The NHS has also re­sponded to the wide­spread short­age of A&E doc­tors by de­cid­ing to ex­pand the num­ber of doc­tors train­ing to be­come spe­cial­ists in emer­gency medicine from 300 to 400 a year for four years from next year. Cur­rently, about 6,300 dif­fer­ent grades of medics work in A&E units across Eng­land.

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