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Student nurses left unprotected after being refused flu jab

  • 12 Comments

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).

  • 12 Comments

Readers' comments (12)

  • michael stone

    This does seem a bit (or a LOT) absurd !

    Mind you, I had the 'flu quite nastily when I was a kid, and it ISN'T 'like a bad cold': at the height of 'proper flu' you feel absolutely dreadful, and either cannot stand, or can hardly stand even if you wanted to. So if any nurses get 'bad flu' because of the above nonsense, at least they will react with the same fury I do to 'only go to the GP if you have the flu and not a cold': if you have 'real flu', you are incapable of visiting the GP !

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  • This is my first blog - EVER.!! What Michael Stone says makes eminent sense. What I would add is that if the DoH requires nursing student vaccination and this edict is ignored, the Department MUST enforce it. The likelihood of infecting/being infected by patients is so patently obvious that it hardly needs stating. I have been fortunate enough never to have suffered influenza but the widely-reported debilitating effects of this viral invasion are surely severe enough to justify free and readily available jabs to all (not merely nursing students) actually or potentially at risk within the healthcare field.

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  • I am a Third year student nurse and have never been offered the Flu Vaccination. I wouldn't know where to go or who to ask...same as most Students. This should be more widely advertised too that the DoH say that we should be vaccinated, it will motivate more students to find out where to go for the vaccination, Which in turn will *most likely* increase the number students bein refused and that way it should get seen too!

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  • This is silly as Student Nurses are vulnerable to catching flu on the ward themselves, missing time and if they get it then can pass it onto vulnerable patients. Are they immune already or something? Come on NHS - these are the trained nurses of the future. Is this all about money? We need to allow them to take responsiblity and set and example to the NHS staff who themselves do not have the jab. I work on the ENT ward so very likely to come into contact with them but I also work with the cancer patients - I could not live with myself if I gave an immunocompromised patient Flu. We need to act like professionals if we want to be treated like one.

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  • The flu jab does not protect everyone, and the percentage is surprisingly low. It's only in the last few years that the NHS has been banging on about getting staff immunised, and it is not because they care about the nurses and medical staff, its because they don't want the inconvenience of us being off sick and having to be replaced which costs money.
    When I trained, many years ago, staff having a flu jab was never mentioned, let alone financed, and as student nurses we wouldn't have been considered anyway.

    It is better to improve your own immune system by healthy diet, exercise, preferably outdoors, vit D supplements, etc.

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  • michael stone

    David Francis Seelig | 8-Nov-2011 8:26 pm

    'What I would add is that if the DoH requires nursing student vaccination and this edict is ignored, the Department MUST enforce it'

    My understanding - and I regularly e-mail a DoH contact to discuss EoLC - is that the DoH has given up on 'command and control' and now only 'suggests good practice' to the NHS. Quality Markers, etc.

    I'm not sure if the DoH can 'insist' on things being done, although many people do ascribe 'magical powers' to the DoH.

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous | 9-Nov-2011 10:39 am

    I am wandering off topic, here, but you write:

    'The flu jab does not protect everyone, and the percentage is surprisingly low.'
    and
    'It is better to improve your own immune system by healthy diet, exercise, preferably outdoors, vit D supplements, etc.'

    Flu seems to be an unusually variable virus, and as you say getting good vaccination is tricky to achieve for flu.

    But the famous 1918-19 outbreak appeared to be very strange, as it seemed to 'preferentially' kill healthy people, in their 20s and 30s, whose immune systems should have been excellent (to an extent 'leaving alone' children and the elderly, compared to 'normal' flu outbreaks). So for some flu strains, it seems possible that patients effectively 'kill themselves' via an ineffective but massive immune response - it is possible that increasing your immune response, is not always a great idea, for flu !

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  • From what I can gather the 1918 flu pathology is still a hypothesis and thought to be an overactive immune response, not a healthy response. Anaphylaxsis also comes under this umbrella.
    Taking vit D and C doesn't necessarily 'increase' your immune response but enables a healthier response. Developing an illness is also not a failure in health, despite the context of a war continually put forward by the media/pharma/etc.
    As there are various reasons for contracting a virus, so there are various reasons for caution regarding vaccination, aside from the evidence or lack of efficacy. Even having a vaccination in no way guarantees protection.
    Any employer insisting on vaccination of staff is still illegal as far as I'm aware, and constitutes assault. However this piece seems to be pointing out the falling between the rock and the hard place of trying to get a vaccination, again due to funding issues. Hurrah for fragmentation of services!!

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous | 9-Nov-2011 6:00 pm

    The issue was student nurses who requested vaccination, being effectively refused - not forcing people to be vaccinated.

    Your 'Developing an illness is also not a failure in health' baffles me, especially if the illness were to kill someone ! I suspect you are alluding to 'developing your immune response' there, but I think the accepted norm is that illness is a bad thing !

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  • In my first year I was refused the flu jab by my placement as 'I'd missed the annual sweep' of the trust and also by my doctor (well, by her receptionist, I never got to speak to her which is always the case) so I did the responsible thing and put my hand in my pocket at Asda. This year the my placement 'did the sweep' whilst I was there, and also gave me the details of where my colleagues who were off shift could go to get the jab should they so wish. I guess I've had both sides of the coin, but it has been a case of being in the right place at the right time. Having had the flu as an otherwise healthy person I wouldnt wish it on anyone, and think that to put an elderly or otherwise frail person at risk of such a horrid illness for the sake of eight quid if you can't get it for free is questionable.

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