1046 GMT January 15, 2019
Health chiefs announced that frontline staff who fail to get the vaccine will be forced to explain themselves and may be ‘redeployed away from wards, telegraph.co.uk reported.
The significant hardening of policy follows the crisis in NHS hospitals last winter, principally in A&E, driven by the worst outbreak of influenza in seven years.
Despite the threat posed by the condition, nearly one third of frontline health care workers had not been vaccinated.
Experts believe this exacerbated the pressures faced by hospitals due to higher than necessary absence through sickness, as well as unvaccinated staff spreading the virus among patients without necessarily falling ill themselves.
Figures suggest that a third of last winter’s increase in emergency admissions were flu-related
The new mandatory policy from NHS Improvement was announced alongside £145 million to prepare hospitals for the upcoming flu season.
This will include the provision of two additional wards at the Royal Stoke University Hospital, where last January a senior emergency doctor publicly apologized for the ‘third world conditions’ endured by patients in A&E.
A study published in the same month found that for every 10 percent increase in NHS vaccination rates, there is a 10 percent fall in sickness absence.
According to NHS Improvement, “staff who decide not to be vaccinated to explain the reason, so that the organization can use the information to support greater compliance”.
The statement added: “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.”
NHS and social workers are entitled to the flu vaccine free of charge, while GP, dental practices and community pharmacies are expected to offer the jab to their frontline staff.
Professor Jane Cummings, Chief Nursing Officer at NHS, said: “By getting vaccinated against flu, health care workers can protect themselves, their families, colleagues and patients, making sure we have a healthy workforce and helping to reduce the pressures on services over winter.”
This year a newly-licensed ‘trivalent’ vaccine will be available to all people aged over 65, which promises the strongest protection against flu in this more susceptible group.
Nearly 300,000 more people attended A&E departments and 100,000 more people were admitted to hospital as an emergency compared to the year before.
More than 4.5 million in England were thought to be suffering from flu.
Dr. Kathy McLean, chief operating officer at NHS Improvement, said: “As we plan for this coming winter, efforts must continue to ensure emergency services and beds are prioritized for the sickest patients and that more people are enabled to recover at home.
“No one should stay in hospital any longer than they need to.”
The schemes announced from money already allocated to healthcare will pay for 256 new ambulances, as well as ‘make ready’ hubs at ambulance headquarters to improve the restocking and maintenance of vehicles, leaders announced.