The Department of Health has admitted that it has no national data on uptake of swine flu vaccine among frontline hospital staff.
It is more than two weeks since acute trusts began receiving their supplies of vaccine. But speaking at the DH’s weekly briefing on swine flu last week, national director for NHS flu resilience Ian Dalton said: “We don’t have any formal data yet on that yet – it will take a while to come through.”
“Anecdotally, from talking to senior colleagues, the general message is very positive and [there is] a sense staff are recognising this will protect themselves, other staff and patients. As soon as firmer data becomes available we will make that available,” he said.
Nursing Times last survey on swine flu vaccination, carried out in October, suggested 47 per cent of frontline nurses would not get vaccinated.
The number of swine flu patients in critical care reached its highest level so far during the outbreak last week and is expected to continue. Last Wednesday there were 848 swine flu patients in hospital in England and 172 in critical care.
Acute trusts have emergency plans in place to cancel work elsewhere and move nurses to high dependency and critical care units when needed.
Airedale Trust critical care nurse consultant Rachel Binks, an RCN critical care adviser, said the possibility of nurses from elsewhere providing support had been well planned.
She said: “Nurses should be thinking about the possibility of moving. We are usually very good at doing what we need to do. So if there are problems, as long as critical care nurses are there to support them, nurses from wards will help.”
Professor Dalton said hospitals had not yet had to expand critical care capacity, which would require moving nurses.
He said: “We haven’t had to implement that plan yet – hospitals are coping well.” But he said the plan to expand critical care, potentially to double capacity, was “on the shelf in case it turns out we need it”.
Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust chief nurse Alison Robertson said coping with the impact of swine flu on top of normal winter pressure was a huge priority for nursing. She said: “It is going to be a winter like we have never known it before.”
Dartford and Gravesham Trust director of nursing Jenny Kay said critical care nurses would also be asked to work differently and lead increases in capacity.