A “disappointingly low” proportion of NHS staff took up the flu vaccinations this winter, NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson has said.
Only 20 per cent of frontline staff had taken up the vaccinations for seasonal flu and the H1N1 strain, Sir David said today. Although that represents an improvement on last winter when just 18.3 per cent of relevant staff arranged to be vaccinated, Sir David said he wanted to see the figure much higher next year.
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Health Protection Agency figures released today show the number of deaths from the various flu strains has risen to 50, up from the 38 reported last week.
In the week ending 26 December, there had been 98.4 incidents of influenza and influenza like illnesses (ILI) reported per 100,000 people in England, compared with 52 in Scotland, which represented a decrease from the previous week in both countries. Wales remained stable on 89.2 per 100,000 but there was an increase to 179.5 in Northern Ireland.
NHS interim chief medical officer Sally Davies said overall ILI incidence rates were “beginning to plateau”.
Sir David Nicholson’s comments on the rate of NHS staff who have been vaccinated came as figures suggested there had been an increase in NHS staff sickness absences over December.
Data extrapolated from 27,000 NHS staff across 22 NHS trusts by the company FirstCare, which helps organisations reduce their sickness absence rates, suggested that there were a total 366,180 staff days lost to flu like illness over the month of December 2010.
That compares with 243,593 lost days in December 2009 – an increase of 50 per cent. There were 55,600 absences between the January 4 and 6 – up by 6,000 on the same period in 2009. Flu-like symptoms accounted for 17 per cent of all absences in December and January compared with 11 per cent in the same period last year.
However, nurse managers told Nursing Times their departments had not suffered from high absences and Sir David said the NHS was “coping well”.