Health staff urged to get flu vaccine to minimise sickness absence this winter

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Senior clinicians and health leaders have urged frontline health and social care staff to get their annual flu jab as soon as possible, to protect themselves and their patients.

The call comes as the first flu vaccine deliveries start to reach local employers.

Hospitals and other local NHS organisations across England are preparing to run drop-in clinics and campaigns to encourage frontline staff and other eligible healthcare employees to take up the vaccine. They can also get the flu jab from their GP or pharmacy.

A 10% increase in the number of NHS staff who are vaccinated reduces health worker sickness absence by around 10%, according to NHS England. This year, with the threat of the coronavirus coupled with the impending cold and flu season, keeping staff sickness absence low will be vital.

A record 74.3% of NHS staff who have direct contact with patients took up the vaccine through their employer last year, with most local NHS employers achieving 75% uptake or higher.

England’s chief nursing officer Ruth May said: “Every year we urge our colleagues to protect themselves, their families and their patients by taking up the free flu jab, and every year more and more do – but this year’s call is the most vital we have ever made.

“The flu has a serious impact on the health of thousands of people every winter, and with the added risk of Covid-19 this year the NHS needs as many of its staff as possible to be fighting fit over the coming months.

“And even more importantly, just as we are making every effort to stop the spread of coronavirus in our hospitals, so we must also do the same for flu. Getting a vaccine is the single most effective way every member of our staff can contribute to this.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “Last year saw more health care workers than ever before getting their flu jab. This year we can go further so that all of our brilliant frontline NHS and social care staff can get the flu vaccine as standard – so that together we can meet the unique challenge we face this winter.”

May has written an open letter to health and social care staff, which implores them to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to encourage their eligible patients to do the same.

Around 30 million people in the health service and the general public are eligible to receive the flu vaccination this year, after the programme was expanded because of the pandemic.

The letter is co-signed by NHS national medical director professor Stephen Powis; Dr Nikki Kanani, medical director of primary care; chief allied health professions officer Suzanne Rastrick; chief midwifery officer, professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent; chief people officer Prerana Issar and chief pharmaceutical officer Dr Keith Ridge.

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