All frontline health service staff will be “expected” to have a influenza vaccination, as part of a comprehensive plan for winter, NHS leaders have announced today.
To help reduce the impact of flu ahead of the winter months, NHS trusts across the country have been asked to achieve a “near universal” uptake from their frontline staff of this year’s flu jab.
“By getting vaccinated, healthcare workers can protect themselves, their families, colleagues and patients”
Although short of making the jab mandatory – which has regularly been mooted but especially in the wake of last winter – the wording used this year by NHS England and NHS Improvement is the strongest ever used for the annual flu vaccination programme.
They noted that the NHS in England “came under significant additional pressure” last winter due to a “perfect storm” of extreme weather, the worst flu season in a decade and high levels of norovirus.
The most challenging days for accident and emergency departments were immediately after Christmas and New Year and following the intense cold snap in late February and early March.
The two bodies said a third of the increase in emergency admissions last winter were flu related, while the virus also put healthcare staff “out of action”.
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Trusts have been told that staff who decide not to be vaccinated “should be asked to explain the reason”, so that the organisation can use the information to support greater compliance.
In hospital departments where patients have lower immunity and are most at risk of flu, the two bodies said it “may be appropriate” for those who choose not to be vaccinated to be “redeployed”.
Last winter, 68.7% of frontline healthcare workers received the vaccination, with some trusts having vaccinated over 90% of their staff – the highest rate on record.
For a second year in a row, NHS England and NHS Improvement confirmed that social care workers would also receive the flu vaccination free of charge, having introduced the move in 2017.
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They added that independent providers, such as GPs and community pharmacists, were “expected” to offer the vaccination to their frontline staff as well.
Professor Jane Cummings, chief nursing officer at NHS England, urged nurses and other clinical staff to have the vaccine to help maintain a “healthy workforce” and reduce pressure on services.
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She said: “NHS staff did a remarkable job last winter as the health service faced a perfect storm of flu, stomach bugs and unusually severe weather.
“By getting vaccinated against flu, healthcare workers can protect themselves, their families, colleagues and patients,” she added.
Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: “While it makes sense for staff to be encouraged to get the flu jab, no-one should feel that they have no option but to have it.
“The NHS had been under huge pressure to make the flu jab compulsory,” she said. “But encouraging rather than forcing staff to take it was always going to be the more sensible approach.
The announcement on universal uptake follows confirmation in February that a newly-licenced flu jab, the adjuvanted trivalent vaccine, will be available to all people aged 65 and over this year.
The new ambition for 100% vaccination comes as the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed today that £145m had been allocated to support trusts implement plans for winter.
Hospital trusts have also been reminded of a national ambition, announced in June, to free up 4,000 beds by the end of December 2018, particularly by reducing the number of “long-stay” patients.
Dr Kathy McLean, executive medical director and chief operating officer at NHS Improvement, said: “As we plan for this coming winter, efforts must continue to ensure emergency services and beds are prioritised for the sickest patients and that more people are enabled to recover at home.”
“Efforts must continue to ensure emergency services and beds are prioritised for the sickest patients”
Under the plans, more patients with minor illnesses and injuries are also set to be referred to services other than accident and emergency, including through primary care.
In addition, community providers will be required to free up capacity across so they can support the expected increased demand on hospitals and allow more patients to recover safely at home, according to today’s statement from NHS England and NHS Improvement.
Meanwhile, acute trusts have been told to ensure they make greater use of flexible working, e-rostering, and effective leave planning to “maximise the number of staff available during periods of peak demand”.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “The flu vaccine is the best protection staff have against flu. It is important that frontline staff are offered the flu vaccine to protect not just themselves but also patients and everyone else around them.
“The flu fighter team at NHS Employers will continue to support employers across the NHS with their local vaccination campaigns and help with ways to promote the vaccine throughout the winter season,” he said.