One in four student nurses are being prevented from getting vaccinated against seasonal flu because both NHS trusts and GPs are refusing them the jab, Nursing Times has discovered.
This is despite the government telling NHS managers that students involved in frontline care should be included in local immunisation programmes.
Concerned student nurses contacted nursingtimes.net last week after being turned away by the trusts at which they are on placement and their GP.
Students said trusts told them to get the vaccine from their GP practice because they were not employees of the trust. But their GP told them to go to their trust for the jab because they did not fit the patient criteria that enabled the practice to receive a vaccination payment from their primary care trust.
A snap survey of 170 student nurses, carried out by Nursing Times last Thursday, found nearly a quarter may have been denied the vaccine in this way.
The survey found 84% of respondents had tried to get the seasonal flu vaccine this year, of which around half said they had received the vaccine without any problems.
But 24% said they had been refused the jab by both their GP and the occupational health department of the trust running their placement. Most said this had left them unvaccinated, while a small number had opted to pay for vaccination out of their own pocket.
The survey results suggest the problem may be worst in Yorkshire and the Humber, and the North East.
Paula Lightowler, a newly qualified nurse at North Tees and Hartlepool Foundation Trust, told Nursing Times she was unable to get immunised until she joined the register.
She said: “I approached my GP practice and asked for the jab. I explained that I was a student nurse and that I was in contact with patients on a regular basis but unfortunately I was refused point blank by the receptionist and told I didn’t meet the requirements.”
Michelle Parker, a learning disabilities student nurse on placement in North Yorkshire, said she had the same experience, despite making it clear she worked with vulnerable adults with very complex needs. “I am totally disheartened by this and have booked to pay for a jab via my local Asda store,” she said.
Another student, on placement at Cornwall and Isle of Scilly NHS Trust, said: “Occupational health told me that I should have it [the jab], but weren’t prepared to give it. I went to my surgery, they also agreed I should have it, but they also won’t give it. It’s ridiculous.”
The findings come in spite of a new campaign this year to get NHS staff to have the vaccine and DH instructions to include student nurses in local flu vaccination planning.
A DH letter sent in May stated: “Employers should make vaccine available free of charge to employees if a risk assessment indicates that it is needed. Students and trainees… should also be included.”
A spokeswoman reiterated this requirement when Nursing Times raised the students’ concerns with the department.
But Royal College of Nursing student advisor Gill Robertson said the only solution would be for funding to be “explicitly” earmarked for the vaccination of student nurses.
Faculty of Public Health vice president Ed Jessop agreed, saying: “It is a cause for concern that student nurses say they are finding it difficult to get the flu jab. We would support dedicated funding for student nurses to receive the flu vaccine because it is in everyone’s interests that students’ health is properly protected.”
Only 30% of frontline nurses and midwives were vaccinated last winter (news, page 7, 13 September).