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NHS staff told they must have flu jabs - or may be stopped from working with high-risk patients

The NHS has said its staff need to get the flu jab. 
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The NHS has said its staff need to get the flu jab. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2015

Frontline health staff could be stopped from working with high-risk patients if they do not have the flu jab, the NHS has warned.

It comes as data from Public Health England shows that some 30pc - 5,482 out of 18,369 - of eligible staff across Norfolk and Waveney’s five healthcare trusts did not get the vaccine last year.

But the health service wants all 18,369 staff to get the jab and has warned trusts to “take appropriate steps to maintain the safety of the service”, including transferring unvaccinated workers away from high-risk patients.

The service said making the vaccination “near universal” was necessary to protect patients in higher-risk clinical environments, like neonatal intensive care and cancer wards, and limit their exposure to unvaccinated staff.

And NHS Improvement, which oversees NHS trusts, said: “In hospital departments where patients have lower immunity and are most at risk of flu, it may be appropriate for those who choose not to be vaccinated to be redeployed to other areas where this promotes the overall safety of patients.”

It could lead to doctors and nurses being told to work elsewhere.

Last year was dubbed the worst flu season in a decade, and NHS England said the higher levels of respiratory illness was one of the factors in the health service’s winter crisis.

More than 15,000 excessive deaths were attributable to flu last season, figures show, and flu accounted for around a third of the growth in emergency admissions to hospital last winter compared to the winter before.

It also meant some staff were too sick to work.

So NHS Improvement said the redeployment of staff was necessary to help the health service avoid another crisis this year.

But groups representing healthcare workers were cautious about the prospect of redeploying staff.

Tom Sandford, the director of the Royal College of Nursing England, said: “Redeploying staff carries its own risks, and we need to understand how employers will manage this.”

The country’s chief nurse Professor Jane Cummings said some staff still believed myths around the flu jab, adding that the “big one” was that the jab itself gives people the flu.

She said: “By getting vaccinated against flu, healthcare workers can protect themselves, their families, colleagues and patients, making sure we have a healthy workforce and helping to reduce the pressure on services over winter.”

The lowest uptake in Norfolk was at the region’s mental health trust, the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT).

Just 50pc of doctors, nurses, clinical staff and support workers at the trust with direct patient contact - 1,965 out of 3,894 - got the vaccine.

That was considerably lower than the England average of 69pc, and far behind targets of 90pc.

Bohdan Solomka, medical director at NSFT, said: “While the uptake is not as high as we would like, it is improving year on year and this is in part down to the increased awareness-raising that has taken place across the trust.”

Some 24pc of staff at Norfolk Community Health and Care (NCHC) - 478 out of 2,016 - did not get the jab.

At the region’s acute hospitals, 29pc of staff at the James Paget University Hospital (JPUH) in Gorleston did not have the jab, 874 out of 2991.

And at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn (QEH), 23pc of staff were not protected - 1,574 out of 6,858 and 591 out of 2,610 respectively.

All trusts ran high-profile campaigns last year offering staff the free jab, with many having mobile vaccination teams visiting hospital wards. And plans are in place this year too to ensure as high of an uptake as possible.

Jeremy Over, director of workforce at the NNUH encouraged staff to have their jab. He said it was important to “protect your patients, your family, your colleagues, and yourself”.

While Paul Cracknell, director of strategy and transformation, added it was “[protecting the vulnerable, the people we service and my friends and family”.

He said: “We know you can carry flu yet not show symptoms. So you might feel fine but still pass it on. Sure, it’s not a guarantee but knowing what I know and where I work, how could I not [have it]?”

Dr Louise Smith, director of Public Health at Norfolk County Council, said it was not just NHS trust staff who needed to be vaccinated but care home staff too, as elderly residents were often more vulnerable to the virus.

She said: “Vaccination is recommended for frontline NHS and social care staff, including staff in care homes. This is to ensure our workforce and carers remain as healthy as possible throughout winter and to protect patients who may come into contact with a member of staff - whether this is in a health hospital, clinic, in mental health care or GP surgery.”

Flu jab myth buster

There are a number of myths about the flu jab, including:

• The flu jab gives you the flu - The vaccine contains and inactivated or dead flu virus so the jab does not give you the flu. Any cold or cough which appears after the jab was likely to already be in the body or caught at the same time.

• One vaccine covers you for life - The World Health Organisation predicts which viruses are circulating, which changes every year, some the vaccines are made to match the new viruses. One flu vaccine will only last for one flu season.

• It is too late if you have already had the flu - It is better to have the vaccine as soon as it becomes available but it is still beneficial to get vaccinated right up until the end of the season in March.

• Antibiotics will fight the flu - The flu is a virus, and is not caused by bacteria, so antibiotics will not help.

Who can get the free flu jab?

Even though flu can be caught by everyone, most people recover within a week or two. But in vulnerable groups it can cause severe illness or even death.

Some people are more likely to develop potentially serious complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia, so should have the vaccine every year.

The flu vaccine is offered for free on the NHS to at-risk groups, including:

• Over 65s;

• Pregnant women;

• People with certain medical conditions;

• People living in a long-stay residential care home or other long-stay care facility;

• Those who receive a carer’s allowance, or if you are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person who may be at risk if you fall ill;

• Frontline health and social care staff (arranged and paid for by their employer);

• Children over six months old with a long-term health condition;

• Children aged two or three on August 31, 2018;

• Children in reception class up to year 5.

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