New study from Imperial College London shows that improving NHS flu vaccination programmes can reduce staff sickness, to help cope with winter demand.
Winter puts pressure on the NHS as more people become ill, increasing patient numbers and placing a greater demand on services. An important part of preparing the NHS for winter is taking steps to ensure that staff are well to cope with this increase in demand.
In this latest study researchers found a clear relationship between vaccination rates and the rate of sickness absence with a 10% increase in the vaccination rate associated with a 10% fall in sickness absence. Importantly there was only a difference in sickness absence rates during the flu season (October to March) and not at other times of the year, suggesting that this is a specific effect.
"These data provide a good argument for individual healthcare workers to get vaccinated against flu to protect themselves their patients and their colleagues"
– Dr Nick Hopkinson
During a typical flu season about a quarter of healthcare staff will contract flu. About half of these will not have major symptoms but they can still spread infections. For this reason, flu vaccination is recommended for NHS staff to reduce risk to the individual their vulnerable patients and their families.
Uptake by NHS staff has been relatively low, with only about half taking it up. This is partly because many healthcare workers are unclear about how effective it is, are concerned about possible side effects or because it is not convenient for them to get it. This new study shows there is a clear reduction in sickness amongst staff who do get the vaccination, this could help encourage higher numbers of NHS staff to be vaccinated in the future.
Royal College of Physicians (RCP) president Professor Jane Dacre welcomed the study saying “Two weeks ago I wrote to all NHS Trusts with guidance to avoid winter pressures, including ensuring all staff have the flu vaccine. This study provides yet more evidence of the benefits of flu vaccination, and underlines the importance of this simple measure in protecting us all over winter.”
The study, published today in the RCP’s journal Clinical Medicine, is a collaboration between the London Respiratory Network and Imperial College London. Data on flu vaccination rates and staff sickness absence were analysed across the NHS for four flu seasons from 2011. This included 223 healthcare trusts and approximately 800,000 staff.
Variation in sickness absence between NHS trusts has been identified as an area for improvement. Bringing sickness absence rates down with would save substantial amounts of money both by reducing cancelled activity and reducing the need to employ locum staff.
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