Over half of frontline healthcare workers in England are yet to have the flu jab this year, promoting fresh calls from nurses specialising in infection control and prevention for staff to get vaccinated.
The Infection Prevention Society is today calling on nurses and other healthcare workers to be vaccinated against influenza to “prevent serious risk to themselves, patients and NHS colleagues”.
“We are urging all healthcare staff to get a flu jab to ensure the safety of their patients”
It noted that, whilst flu vaccination uptake amongst frontline health workers in England had increased since 2016 – 54% have not currently had flu jabs.
The society quoted latest government data showing that 46% of health professionals had been vaccinated in October 2017, compared with 40% in the same period the previous year.
The organisation highlighted that in a typical flu season about a quarter of healthcare staff will contract flu and half of these will not have major symptoms but they can still spread infections.
It has previously echoed warnings from NHS leaders in England that this flu season may be particularly tough due to the experiences of New Zealand and Australia during their winter.
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The impact of influenza can be “devastating”, noted the society, citing 2015-16 when there were 28,189 deaths. It added that such outbreaks could cause “major disruption to vital NHS services through staff sickness”.
The society said it was urging flu vaccination for all nurses to prevent infection spread and risk to patient and NHS staff health.
A key reason that flu jab uptake by NHS staff has been relatively low is concern about how effective it was, noted the organisation, which represents around 2,000 infection prevention and control nurses and other specialists.
However, it highlighted recent research that had shown that improving NHS flu vaccination programmes could reduce staff sickness. A 10% increase in the vaccination level was associated with a 10% fall in sickness absence, said the society in a statement issued today.
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Its president Dr Neil Wigglesworth said: “It’s worrying that as we head into winter over half of healthcare workers, including frontline nurses, are not vaccinated against the threat of flu.
He highlighted that influenza could have “devastating effects on patient and staff safety, as well causing havoc to vital NHS services through staff sickness”.
“Annual immunisation remains the best way to protect people and we are urging all healthcare staff to get a flu jab to ensure the safety of their patients and colleagues,” said Dr Wigglesworth.
“With the added threat of the Australian flu strain reaching Europe, frontline nurses and their patients and colleagues are even more vulnerable. Infection prevention through vaccination is critical to keep our workforce fighting fit,” he said.
Last month the Nursing and Midwifery Council also issued a statement urging nurses and midwives to have the flu jab.
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Midwives has separately expressed concern that six in 10 pregnant women miss out on the flu jab, with concern about the jab’s safety one of the reasons cited.
Along with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the RCM said it was reminding all pregnant women to take up the offer of free flu vaccination.
“Pregnant women want and need more time to talk about vaccinations with their midwives”
Latest Public Health England data – published in its Weekly National Influenza Report – reveals just 43.1% of pregnant women have received the vaccine so far – though this is still a slight improvement on the 40.8% uptake in 2016 and 35.6% in 2015.
Between 2009 and 2012, 36 pregnant women died from flu in the UK and Ireland, representing one in 11 of all maternal deaths during this period. The vaccine has been routinely offered to pregnant women in the UK since 2010.
Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the RCM, said: “One of the most important findings to come out of our survey was that pregnant women want and need more time to talk about vaccinations with their midwives before they make a decision.
“Having that time is so important because there can be misconceptions about some vaccinations and, although it is useful to have leaflets and websites to refer to, there is nothing quite like having a real conversation, to talk through any concerns or question,” she added.