The call comes after health service in England came under significant additional pressure last winter as a result of a ‘perfect storm’ of extreme weather conditions, the worst flu season in a decade and high levels of norovirus.
A third of the increase in emergency admissions were flu related while the virus also took staff out of action.
The new ambition for 100 percent vaccination comes as the Department of Health and Social Care has confirmed that £145m has been allocated to support NHS trusts implement plans to maintain services during the winter flu season.
Trusts have been advised today (Friday 7 September) by NHS England and NHS Improvement that staff who decide not to be vaccinated should be asked to explain the reason, so that the organisation can use the information to support greater compliance. 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.
Last winter, 68.7 percent of front line health care workers received the vaccination, with some trusts having vaccinated over 90 percent of their staff – the highest rate on record.
For another year, social care workers will receive the flu vaccination free of charge. Independent providers, such as GPs, dental and optometry practices, and community pharmacists, are expected to offer the vaccination to their frontline staff.
Professor Jane Cummings, Chief Nursing Officer at NHS England, said:
“NHS staff did a remarkable job last winter as the health service faced a perfect storm of flu, stomach bugs and unusually severe weather. 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 pressure on services over winter.”
The announcement on universal uptake follows confirmation in February that a newly-licenced flu jab, the adjuvanted trivalent vaccine, will be available to all people aged 65 and over this year, offering the strongest possible protection against flu in this vulnerable group.
Also in the plans – set out in a letter to system leaders – hospitals have been reminded of the national ambition, announced in June, to free up 4,000 beds by the end of December 2018, particularly by reducing the number of ‘long-stay’ patients.
Nearly 350,000 patients spend more than three weeks in a hospital each year – this is around a fifth of beds. Some patients need to be there for medical reasons, but many do not. Many of these patients are older people who may deteriorate if they stay in hospital longer than necessary.
Dr Kathy McLean, Executive Medical Director and Chief Operating Officer at NHS Improvement said:
“Last year, over 55,000 people were seen in A&E and admitted or discharged within four hours every day over winter. That’s over 6.7 million people in total. This is thanks to the efforts and dedication of hard working staff. As we plan for this coming winter, efforts must continue to ensure emergency services and beds are prioritised 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.”
Other elements of the plan include:
- More patients with minor illnesses and injuries will be referred to services other than A&E, including through primary care. To support this, 9 million additional GP appointments will be made available from October over the year, including over weekends and evenings.
- Community providers will free up capacity across their services so that they can support the expected increased demand on hospitals and allow more patients to recover safely at home.
- NHS trusts will ensure that hospitals make greater use of flexible working, e-rostering systems, and planning annual leave effectively to maximise the number of staff available during periods of peak demand