After seeing how seriously ill children could become with flu, Dan Bowen has worked tirelessly to ensure his colleagues are immunised.
A passion for numbers first inspired Dan Bowen’s career – the Birmingham Children’s Hospital nurse originally wanted to go into banking.
In his new role as one of the trust’s flu champions, he is still motivated by numbers – working hard to increase the number of healthcare professionals who take up the flu vaccine.
“I always thought I’d be a banker but, after graduating, the only job I could get was as a domestic in a hospital,” Mr Bowen says. “I started to watch nurses and appreciated what they did and I decided to become a healthcare assistant then trained in nursing.”
Mr Bowen says he felt drawn to paediatric nursing, and says it was this concern for children that motivates him in campaigning for staff to take up the flu vaccination.
In 2009, Mr Bowen opted to do a placement in the Health Protection Agency. He worked in its call centre, handling calls from parents and giving them advice.
“I’d heard a few rumours about swine flu and, in 2009, one of our directors decided to open a flu office – a central point where all immunisations could be coordinated.
“Back then, we weren’t sure how serious it would be. Up to that point, I thought flu was a bit of a sneeze,” he says.
“I soon began to see how seriously unwell it could make children in the paediatric intensive care unit.
“Our trust had had a sad paediatric death from swine flu, and I realised how vital it was to not unconsciously transmit that virus to patients or their parents.”
So he became one of 50 nurses whom the trust enlisted to take over roles as immunisation champions. He was responsible for teaching his colleagues that there were no side effects that couldn’t be cured by a quick trip to Boots and that immunisation was essential to protect patients.
“I trained immunisation champions to make it personal for the staff, and ask them would they want to infect a pregnant woman, their grandad or their children. It’s not just getting a few days off sick – it can be life and death.”
Over the past three years that Mr Bowen has been involved in the flu immunisation campaign, average uptake has between 92% to nearly 100% of staff, compared to a comparable national average of around 10-15% before 2009. The success rate at the trust is down to the immunisation champions’ enthusiasm for “jabbing” everyone – and that means everyone.
“I decided on day one I had to have it done. I couldn’t be a hypocrite and encourage people to do it if not,” says Mr Bowen.
He says that having flu champions going out to the wards makes it far more successful to embed in the culture than the traditional occupational health model used by many trusts.
The campaign’s slogan is “Any time, any place, any where”, making it easy to access a flu vaccination at any point in a working day.
“We tried to make it fun by giving lollipops. We really benefited from NHS Employers’ flu-fighting national campaign to encourage take-up among staff.”
The support at the top level has dramatically boosted the success. “Our chief executive Sarah Jane Marsh has been immunised every year, as have all senior managers; board members and the director of nursing insisted on being vaccinated.
“A big coup for me was having the opportunity to vaccinate NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson at a conference.”
Mr Bowen says he has concerns that, because the winter of 2011-12 was mild, people may be lulled into a false sense of security.
“We still need to keep up the momentum,” he says.
“We need to do this to avoid unnecessary flu mortalities and admissions. I am ambitious for our trust and to improve our figures, but also to see our successful model rolled out across the NHS to protect the public and vulnerable children.”