A major campaign has been launched to encourage more NHS staff to get vaccinated against flu, following figures that suggested hospital nurses and midwives are among the health workers least likely to have the seasonal flu jab.
Data on staff flu vaccination uptake, published in September 2011 by the Department of Health, argued that just 30% of NHS nurses, including hospital nurses and midwives, had been vaccinated last year, compared with 42.5% of GP practice nurses, 38.2% of GPs and 37% of doctors excluding GPs.
Nevertheless, the average of 34.7% last year was an improvement on the 26.4% vaccinated during the winter of 2009, the Department of Health added.
Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer, said: "NHS staff face increased pressure over winter, especially if there is a severe flu season. They keep the NHS running and it is vital that they protect themselves, their patients and families from the potentially serious effects of flu that they are exposed to over the winter period."
Dean Royles, director of NHS Employers, added: "It is critical that we all do more to increase the vaccination rates, which is in the interests of patients and staff.
"Flu exacts a major price on the NHS and its patients, however, we have the means to reduce its impact so let's take advantage of that."
Vaccination rates needed to be much higher than one-third if the risk of flu spreading from staff to colleagues, families or patients is to be tackled properly.
In a separate development, the UK's International Longevity Centre thinktank has urged the Government to extend the flu jab to the over-50s to support healthy ageing.
It said that a "life course" approach to the immunisation of adults would contribute to better health outcomes.
It has also called for the introduction of a vaccination record card (either paper or electronic) which could be carried by a person throughout their lifetime, and which could be linked to employer schemes encouraging vaccination.
It also recommended the introduction of trial workplace vaccination schemes for the over-50s.