Hospital staff are being told to have the winter flu jab - or risk their A&E departments missing out on crucial funding.
A £500m government bailout, announced last month, will see £250m ploughed into services this year to prepare for the extra pressure of winter. But the remaining £250m pot for 2014-15 will only be shared by those trusts whose staff flu vaccination rates reach at least 75% this winter.
Last year, fewer than half of frontline NHS staff had the jab, with the figure fewer than one in five in some hospitals.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “We can’t ignore the fact that winter brings extra pressure for the NHS, particularly in already busy A&E departments. That’s why we’re helping the A&E departments that need it the most with a £250m support fund this year and next.
“One of the simplest ways we can support hospitals under pressure and protect patients is to target flu. On average, around 27,000 people spend time in hospital because of flu each winter.
“So this year and next I want every trust to vaccinate more than 75% of staff against flu to protect vulnerable patients and staff. To make sure that happens, we’ve set this tough 75% target for every hospital hoping to get winter funding next year.”
The Department of Health believes such a dramatic rise in uptake of the jab is possible, singling out the Royal Liverpool University Hospital for praise as it vaccinated more than 80% of staff last winter.
Chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies said: “Frontline staff, by the very nature of their jobs, deal with people who are unwell every day. Simply by having the flu vaccine, as recommended by the GMC, NHS staff can play an important role in not picking up the flu virus and passing it on to other patients - often people who are already poorly and vulnerable to infection.
“Currently less than half of frontline NHS staff get vaccinated against flu - and in some hospitals, this figure drops to fewer than one in five. I urge all frontline staff to get vaccinated and encourage their colleagues to do so too.”
Another measure to tackle flu is a nasal spray vaccine for two and three-year-olds, to be administered at GP surgeries from next month.
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